The House of Delegates on Tuesday approved a bill sponsored by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that would put a Fair Campaign Financing Fund checkoff box back on state income tax forms.
The bill, which needs Senate approval, would be the first step in replenishing a public fund that was used by Hogan and then-Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) last year to help finance their underdog gubernatorial bids.
Lawmakers voted to remove the checkoff box in 2010 because no candidates had used the fund for years. Now it is almost depleted; the House-approved bill would allow people to again contribute to the fund through their tax forms.
The 134-to-6 vote came as the pace of the 90-day legislative session picked up in advance of Monday’s “crossover day,” the date by which all bills must have passed out of at least one chamber of the legislature to have the best chance of becoming law.
The Senate began work Tuesday morning an hour earlier than usual, and the House is scheduled to have double sessions Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with much of that time likely to be devoted to passing a modified version of Hogan’s $40.7 billion budget proposal. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) instructed delegates to be prepared to work Saturday if necessary.
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), chair of the Appropriations Committee, told delegates the budget approved by her committee is “fiscally prudent and socially responsible.” It would restore full funding for education and a pay increase given to state employees in January.
McIntosh said the committee thought Hogan’s budget — which would have wiped out the state’s structural deficit in one year — was “too much, too fast” and did not fully consider the impact of cuts on education, state employees and the state’s safety net programs.
The budget submitted by the House panel reduces the deficit by nearly 75 percent, McIntosh said, while preserving a 2 percent pay raise for state workers. It reduces the amount the state will contribute to the pension system next year, freeing up $75 million for other spending but drawing concern from the Hogan administration.
“Governor Hogan has repeatedly been on record supporting a pay raise for state employees — he believes they deserve one,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the governor. “What we are concerned about is the proposal to divert contributions away from the state employee pension system to fund other parts of the budget.”
In the Senate, a bill to commission a task force to study standardized testing in Maryland’s public schools advanced on Tuesday, with a final vote likely in coming days. If passed, the commission would report its findings and recommendations to the state Board of Education.
There was spirited debate over a bill sponsored by Sens. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) that would hold the hydraulic-fracturing industry liable for injuries, death or property damage caused by the controversial gas extraction method.
Legislators are debating whether to place an eight-year moratorium on the practice. At issue are concerns from environmentalists and others about fracking’s impact on communities and a desire of fracking’s proponents to create jobs in economically struggling western Maryland.
Sen. George C. Edwards (D-Garrett), whose district is home to the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale rock formation, has been critical of regulations that he believes would impose an undue burden on drilling companies.
“When the bill first came in, I would stand here and say, I do believe it was an attempt to kill fracking in this state,” Edwards said during a floor debate.
Zirkin countered that “this is not a bill about whether to frack or not to frack . . . When [a company] injures somebody, they should not be able to cut and run.”
Action on the bill was postponed at Edwards’s request after he said he wanted to draw up amendments.
Other bills awaiting action include one that would allow assisted suicide; a bill that would remove the state mandate for major counties and the city of Baltimore to collect the stormwater management fee, known derisively as the “rain tax”; and a Hogan bill that would make it easier for charter schools to open.
On Monday night, the Senate approved legislation that would allow felons to register to vote as soon as they are released from prison rather than waiting until after they have completed probation, parole and paid restitution.
The 29-to-18 vote mostly was along party lines, with all of the Senate’s 14 Republicans and four Democrats voting against the bill.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), who introduced the legislation, said at least a dozen states allow offenders to register to vote as soon as they are released — and two states, Vermont and Maine, allow people to vote while they are in prison.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.