Health professionals in Maryland would be legally prohibited from practicing “gay conversion therapy” for minors under legislation that is moving its way through the General Assembly.
The Maryland Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill that makes the practice of trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity unlawful in the state.
The measure would have to move quickly to get to the governor’s desk before the General Assembly adjourns on April 9.
If approved, Maryland would join the District and nine other states that have outlawed the practice, which has been widely discredited by medical and mental-health associations.
The Senate action came after an hour-long debate over whether the legislation was needed, how it would affect religious leaders and if it would create problems for health professionals who, many Republican senators said, are trying to simply provide counseling.
“This is a discredited practice, and we’re just trying to align our law to that degree,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, who is openly gay.
Madaleno said he sponsored the bill because of continued concerns in the LGBTQ community over protections being threatened by the Trump administration.
“People are nervous about the backsliding,” he said.
There have been no complaints of anyone practicing what is also called reparative therapy for homosexuality, but state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said he found a website for a counselor providing the service in Rockville.
Under the bill, the practice would be classified as unprofessional conduct and the provider would be subjected to discipline from the state licensing board. The discipline could result in a fine, a suspension or loss of license.
Several Republicans said they worried the state was moving in the wrong direction.
“This bill does not allow any professionals to discuss alternatives to anyone who is questioning their sexuality,” said state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County). “We should all be worried about that.”
Also on Tuesday, House lawmakers approved a bill that would remove the state comptroller from the process of awarding funds for school construction following months of political squabbling between Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who is an ally of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), and top lawmakers in both the Senate and House.
Hogan called replacing the oversight role of the three-member Board of Public Works, which includes the comptroller, the governor and the state treasurer, with a commission of appointed members “outrageous.”
“It’s probably one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard coming out of Annapolis,” Hogan said during a Monday news conference. He added that he would veto the bill “the second” it arrived on his desk, even though he supported some provisions in the measure — which would mandate a comprehensive public school facilities assessment and allocate $400 million annually to school construction.
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill, which will next be considered by the Senate, is intended to “take the politics out of” awarding funding for school construction. She said a commission appointed by the governor, speaker of the house and the Senate president would be more responsive to concerns from parents and students.
Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews said in a news release that Hogan is “throwing a tantrum” and should not veto a bill that would provide funds for much-needed repairs to schools and an additional $10 million for school safety.
Len Foxwell, Franchot’s chief of staff, said the move to replace elected leaders with appointed commission members would decrease transparency and accountability.
“It’s a political stunt from a handful of people who are more concerned with flexing their legislative muscles than serving the public interest,” he said.
The House and Senate both gave final approval on Tuesday to a $44.4 billion state budget, which allocates $200 million to new education funding, using additional tax revenue residents are expected to pay because of changes in the federal tax code.
In his initial budget, Hogan had proposed fully offsetting an expected increase in state taxes for some Marylanders because of changes at the federal level that affected which state tax deductions residents can claim. But lawmakers opted not to eliminate the tax burden altogether. While Hogan agreed, it garnered criticism from some Republican lawmakers who said leaders were walking back their promise to make sure no residents saw their taxes increase because of federal tax changes.