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7 Things To Watch During the 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session

Maryland Speaker of the House Mike Busch (right) and Senate President Mike Miller (left) greet newly inaugurated Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (center) at his first State of the State address in Annapolis, MD on February 4, 2015. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

1. Dynamics between Gov. Larry Hogan and Speaker of the House Mike Busch

There’s no love lost here and the two (unlike Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller) don’t attend basketball and football games together. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said recently that there is some residual bitterness from last year’s session. He remains optimistic that the Democratic-controlled General Assembly can work with Hogan, but he is also ready to fight for Democratic priorities.

2. Baltimore

This will be the first legislative session since the death of Freddie Gray and the riots in Baltimore City. And Charm City is expected to be a focus this year. In addition to legislation that would change police policies, Democrats have a package of bills that includes initiatives for workforce training, improving education and addressing blight. How will Hogan address the needs of the city when many people in his base resent the money the state already sends?

3. Spending mandates relief

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) said Tuesday it would be a “cold day in hell” before he will allow Hogan to get spending mandates relief, which he calls a “code word for cutting public education.”

4. Hogan’s response to social issues

Hogan ran a campaign based on cutting taxes and making government more efficient and business-friendly. He largely avoided the social issues that can make it hard for Republicans to be elected in blue states. This year, the legislature is poised to deal with bills that would require employers to pay for sick leave and another that would require them to set up retirement plans for their workers. The governor also has not taken a definitive stance on whether assisted suicide should be legalized, a bill that returns this year with Busch’s support.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his 2016 tax-relief plan on Tuesday, including an additional $480 million in revenue cuts, which he says will deliver tax relief to the "most vulnerable Marylanders." (Video: GovHogan/Youtube)

5. Glimmers of bipartisanship

While the session is expected to be filled with its share of acrimony, there are some areas where the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Hogan are expected to agree: justice reinvestment; heroin treatment, and re-entry programs for former offenders.

6. Lawmakers running for other positions

More than a half dozen lawmakers are running for other offices and must juggle their legislative duties with continuing to campaign back in their districts before the April 26 primary. With the election just a couple of weeks after the end of the session, it could be a hectic 90 days for:
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R), who is running for U.S. Senate; State Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), who is running for Baltimore mayor; and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) and Dels. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s), Ana Sol Guttierez (D-Montgomery), Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), and David Vogt (R-Frederick), all of whom are vying for congressional seats.

7. Second-year lawmakers

Last year freshmen lawmakers made up the largest group of new lawmakers to join the Maryland General Assembly in decades. Many came ready to make an impact. Many of them left frustrated. Now they know how the process works. “They have their sea legs,” said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County). An unusually high number of draft-bill requests were submitted before this year’s session, and some in Annapolis say that one of the signs that the newcomers are having an impact.

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