Maryland must sharply reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and restore funding to preserve open space as a result of two bills that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law Monday.
With a week left in the legislative session, the governor also signed a bill to extend the age at which children of police officers who die in the line of duty can receive death benefits.
The House of Delegates, meanwhile, gave preliminary approval to mandatory sick leave and final approval to sweeping criminal-justice legislation that, among other things, would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The 105-to-31 vote on the latter bill set up a showdown with the Senate, which passed a significantly different criminal-justice reform bill.
For his first bill-signing ceremony of 2016, Hogan was joined by lawmakers, environmentalists and the families of slain Harford County sheriff’s deputies Pat Dailey and Mark Logsdon, whose deaths at the hands of a gunman in February spurred state lawmakers to approve the benefits bill.
The legislation, which takes effect immediately, raises the maximum age for receiving benefits from 18 to 26.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was visibly moved by the sight of Dailey’s sons, ages 17 and 20, sitting in the front row. “We saw these two young men,” Miller said, before stopping.
Unable to finish his sentence, he motioned to Hogan to continue.
“Marylanders were incredibly saddened by the tragic loss of two of our heroes,” Hogan said. “Our state owes families like theirs a tremendous debt, and providing these extended benefits is one small way that we can honor their sacrifice.”
The environmental bill, which takes effect Oct. 1, reauthorizes and sets new targets for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, a landmark bill passed in 2009 that required Maryland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. The new target is to slash emissions to 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2030.
Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the House version of the bill, said it will allow Maryland to take “a giant environmental leadership step in addressing climate disruption.”
Environmentalist have hailed the bill as one of the strongest in the country for tackling carbon pollution.
“Maryland is taking a historic and notably bipartisan step toward the protection of our health, our economy, and our children’s future,” Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and a member of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, said in a statement.
The legislation for preserving the state’s open space includes a requirement that Hogan increase the amount of grant money that is provided to Baltimore City for parks. Instead of spending $4.5 million over the next three years, the bill allocates $10.5 million to parks in Baltimore over the next three fiscal years.
Miller, Hogan and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) made no mention at the ceremony of the battle that is expected to ensue in coming days, when the General Assembly plans to override Hogan’s recent veto of a transportation bill.
But Democratic Party officials did criticize Hogan for supporting the open-space bill, which includes automatic spending increases, even as the governor has strongly criticized other spending mandates. Patrick Murray, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, accused the Hogan of “political doublespeak.”
The criminal-justice bill approved Monday by the House is aimed at reducing incarceration and recidivism rates by altering criminal penalties and guidelines for sentencing and parole.
Much of the bill deals with penalties for nonviolent crimes such as low-level drug possession that disproportionately affect African Americans. But black lawmakers disagreed Monday in floor debate over whether the measure moves the state in the right direction.
“If you keep lessening time on drug dealers, you are not doing the right thing,” said Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), adding that drug dealers have created “the most violent culture in the state of Maryland.”
Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s) countered that experts and evidence suggest that stricter punishment has increased incarceration and recidivism rates while not necessarily reducing the drug problem. “This smart-on-crime act changes that,” he said.
In addition to repealing some mandatory minimums, the House version of the bill would increase penalties for gang leaders and for child abusers who kill their victims; reduce from 65 to 60 the age at which inmates can receive geriatric parole; and give judges less discretion over sentencing those who commit technical probation violations.
The House and Senate must reconcile the differences between their versions of the bills before sending the legislation to Hogan’s desk.
The sick-leave statute would require employers of at least 15 workers to provide paid sick leave, putting Maryland at the forefront of a national push by progressive activists for that benefit.
A similar measure stalled at the committee level in the Senate, creating doubt about whether the House bill has enough support in that chamber to pass before the legislative session ends next Monday.