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Lawmakers churn through hundreds of bills on drama-free ‘Crossover Day’


Lawmakers churn through hundreds of bills on drama-free ‘Crossover Day’

Mar 20, 2023 | 11:30 pm ET
By William J. Ford
Lawmakers churn through hundreds of bills on drama-free ‘Crossover Day’
Gov. Wes Moore (D), accompanied by his chief legislative officer, Eric Luedtke, updates reporters on the status of his legislative agenda Monday. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly churned through hundreds of bills Monday as they streaked toward a target date to pass legislation out of one chamber of the legislature and send it to the other.

“Crossover Day,” as it’s known, is the deadline for guaranteeing that a bill passed in one house of the Assembly will be considered in the other house during the final three weeks of the legislative session, which ends on April 10. As a result, the House and Senate each convened in the early afternoon Monday and held lengthy floor sessions that, with breaks, did not end until after 8 p.m.

“It’s been really remarkable,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) told his colleagues as the final session of the day drew to a close. “We have 21 days left. It’s going to be tight.”

Crossover Day is an important date in the legislative calendar, though meeting the deadline is hardly essential for getting legislation passed before Sine Die. As a practical matter, legislative leaders can muscle through a bill in a matter of hours regardless of the calendar. But Crossover Day is nevertheless a milestone that policymakers and advocates mark and take seriously.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) used the occasion Monday to celebrate the success of his legislative agenda. At an afternoon news conference in the State House lobby, the new governor noted that all 10 of the bills he has introduced this legislative session have passed in one form or another — and that eight of them have Republican co-sponsors.

He did not outwardly express disappointment that his push to raise the state’s minimum wage annually based on the Consumer Price Index was taken out of a measure to accelerate the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, or that his bills expanding a tax break for military retirement income and providing increased health insurance subsidies for members of the Maryland National Guard were also scaled back.

“We’re about to make the first full frontal assault on child poverty that the state has ever seen,” Moore said. “And I’m excited to be getting it done in my first three months.”

Moore, working with Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, also asserted that his administration has helped set “a new tone” in Annapolis after eight years of legislative Democrats often being at odds with former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — and expressed confidence that the spirit of cooperation would extend well beyond the legislative session.

The House and Senate are largely in accord on key pieces of legislation. But even with all the legislative activity on Monday, lawmakers over the next few days will still have to pass a final version of the state budget, legislation standing up a recreational cannabis industry in Maryland, and measures to reform the state’s 529 college savings program — not to mention reconcile the minor differences between scores of House and Senate bills that have already passed.

The House on Monday worked exclusively on “third reader” bills — those needing a final vote before passage. That meant most of the heavy legislative lifting had already taken place on those measures and as a result, only a dozen or so bills saw any lengthy debate on the House floor. The Senate, where floor debate is more commonplace, worked through a variety of bills over three sessions Monday.

Here’s a sampling of some of Monday’s floor activity:

Earned income tax credit advances

The Senate gave final approval to a bill that would permanently extend the earned income tax credit to low wage earners despite the objections of Republicans to one provision.

Senate Bill 552, a priority of Moore’s, makes permanent an expansion of the earned income tax credit for low wage earners that was passed in 2021.

The original law extended the same credit to low wage earners those who file their taxes using an Individual Tax Identification Number — mostly undocumented immigrants.

Then, as now, Republicans balked at extending the benefit to ITIN filers.

Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll) proposed an amendment earlier in the day to strip out ITIN filers, saying to leave that provision in would “incentivize people to come here illegally.”

Budget and Taxation Committee Vice Chair Jim Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) urged rejection of the amendment.

“These are hardworking people,” said Rosapepe. “People are not coming to Maryland because of our tax code. When they leave their country they don’t even know what the Maryland tax code is.”

The bill “does not distinguish related to immigration status. It distinguishes based on working and paying taxes,” said Rosapepe.

Ready’s amendment failed in a mostly party line vote with Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) joining the 13 Senate Republicans. The bill passed on a 32-13 vote. The House version of the bill passed 101-35.

Prince George’s County reform bills approved

The House of Delegates approved three bills aimed at reforming the Prince George’s County public schools system, which is searching for a new superintendent and has been beset by conflict on the school board.

The delegation’s most immediate bill — House Bill 432 — would organize a search committee to replace public schools CEO Monica Goldson, who announced in January her plans to retire.

The amended bill, which passed 133-0, would expand the current three-member search committee to include seven people — the school board chair, plus one person appointed by each of the following groups: the county executive, the county’s state Senate delegation, the county’s House delegation, the County Council chair, the executive director of the county’s teachers union, and the president of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel. The committee is directed to provide a list of three nominees for the county executive to interview and select a new school leader.

As an emergency bill, the legislation would take effect as soon as it’s enacted.

In a related development, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) announced Monday afternoon that the county has selected the executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Schaumburg, Ill., as the firm to assist in a national search for a new county schools leader.

Residents can provide feedback here, or attend a future public forum hosted by the county executive and search committee.

The goal is to appoint a new schools leader by June 30.

House Bill 437, which passed 131-0, would change the school leader’s title from CEO to county superintendent and create an Office of Integrity that would be independent of the school board to improve local education oversight. A fiscal note shows three people would need to be hired at an estimated cost of $545,240.

A third education bill — House Bill 1079 — would alter some of the duties and responsibilities of the school board including requiring an update to bylaws every four years, creating a citizen advisory committee and conducting an annual poll to “measure public opinion on the confidence and effectiveness” of the school system.

By July 2024, the board would consist of nine elected members to represent separate districts and a student member chosen by the county’s Regional Association of Student Governments. The measure passed the House by a 131-2 vote.

Court recordings

House Bill 1143, whose lead sponsor is Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery), vice chair of Judiciary Committee, would require Maryland courts to make available an audio copy of a court proceeding and allow its rebroadcast, subject to possible redactions by the trial court.

The bill stems from an attempt by the Maryland courts to implement a “broadcast ban” on legally received audio recordings — a prohibition that was struck down in December by a U.S. District Court judge, who ruled the ban unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment.

Within days of that decision, the Maryland court system’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure recommended an emergency rule to the state’s highest court that it end the practice of providing recordings of criminal court proceedings after written request and payment. After an outcry by press advocates and others, the committee abandoned the proposal.

The legislation would not affect court proceedings that are now closed to the public under the Maryland rules or by court order. It also would protect certain safeguards that might be in place to shield the release of certain portions of a proceeding.

Moon introduced the legislation at the request of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association.

During the House vote, Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) expressed disappointment that a provision that was originally in the bill allowing video of court proceedings had been removed, and said she hoped the Senate would restore it. The House bill passed 133-3.

City charter amendment on police control

On a 117-19 vote, the House passed a bill Monday, sponsored by the Baltimore House delegation, that would amend the Baltimore City Charter to allow the City Council to exercise control over the police department. Without the change, the mayor would have the sole authority over the agency, but neither the City Council nor General Assembly would have the authority to write laws affecting the department.

The legislation that would change the City Charter follows voter approval of a ballot question in November that transferred the Police Department back to the city after being a state agency since 1860. The department was taken over by the state more than 160 years ago because it was controlled by followers of the nativist American Party known as “Know Nothings.

The cross-filed Senate Bill 758 was sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and has yet to be voted out of the chamber.

TikTok ban

The House on Monday also passed a bill, whose lead sponsor is Del. Rachel Muñoz (R-Anne Arundel), that would prohibit the installation of the Chinese-owned TikTok social media application on any state-owned devices and networks. The vote was 135-1.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, is causing governmental cybersecurity concerns that the People’s Republic of China could use it to monitor users’ data and spy on Americans.

In December, a month before leaving office, Hogan issued an emergency directive banning the use of TikTok on state government devices and networks.

Earlier this month, the Biden White House gave federal agencies 30 days to ensure that TikTok is not on any federal devices or systems. More than 30 states, as well as Canada and major European Union agencies, have banned the application from its devices.