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Roundup: Transgender Day of Visibility celebrated, abortion rights measures advance, GOP dislikes California (rules), cannabis to the House, and more


Roundup: Transgender Day of Visibility celebrated, abortion rights measures advance, GOP dislikes California (rules), cannabis to the House, and more

Apr 01, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Bryan P. Sears
Roundup: Transgender Day of Visibility celebrated, abortion rights measures advance, GOP dislikes California (rules), cannabis to the House, and more
Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed a proclamation Friday, declaring it International Transgender Day of Visibility in Maryland. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) proclaimed Friday as International Transgender Day of Visibility in Maryland.

He was the first governor in Maryland history to commemorate the day, Moore’s office said.

“People who have the courage to demand visibility, even after facing hardship — in some cases, after facing violence and poverty — they represent the very best of Maryland. We need to elevate their stories, embrace their courage, and celebrate their humanity,” Moore said. “By signing this proclamation, we are taking a step forward. And I look forward to working with all of you to continue that march in the years to come.”

Just hours later, the Trans Health Equity Act quietly passed the Maryland Senate by a vote of 31-13. A day earlier the House of Delegates passed the Senate version of the same bill, 93-39.

The measures now head to the desk of Moore, who has said he plans to sign them.

Maryland’s Medicaid program currently covers treatments including mental health services, hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery with strict rules for qualification.

The legislation requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for additional gender-affirming treatments including hormone therapy, hair alteration, voice therapy, physical alterations to the body, and fertility preservation, among others.

“Every once in a while a bill moves through the General Assembly that doesn’t just keep our communities moving, but fundamentally alters the trajectory of our state, makes history, and changes lives. The Trans Health Equity Act is one of those bills. And I intend to sign it,” Moore tweeted.

Abortion rights amendment debated one last time in Senate

Maryland voters will be asked to approve an amendment enshrining the right to abortion within the Maryland Constitution.

The Senate on Friday voted 33-14, mostly along party lines, to approve House Bill 705. A day earlier, the House of Delegates gave final approval to Senate Bill 798, which is identical to the House bill, by a vote of 98-38. Those bills send the question of whether to put abortion rights in the Constitution to state voters.

Access to abortion in Maryland is currently guaranteed under a 1992 law that voters approved.

It allows for an abortion if the fetus is not viable outside the womb. The procedure is legally allowed after that point in cases of serious genetic defects or medical anomalies and in cases where it would be necessary to protect the health or life of the mother.

The change approved in the legislature this year, if OK’d by voters in November 2024, would make it harder to end the access to abortion care in the state in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Another abortion rights bill is also advancing.

A bill protecting medical data related to reproductive health care received final approval Friday and heads to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 812 requires data to be shielded related to the prescribing or use of mifepristone as well as other abortion care or “sensitive health services.” The bill also establishes a commission to determine other procedures that should be deemed “legally protected health care” that could only be shared with the permission of the patient.

Senate Bill 786, which is identical to the House bill, awaits final approval in the House of Delegates.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) has promised to sign the bill.

(Don’t) open up that Golden Gate

At the request of Republicans, the House on Friday put off debate on three major environmental bills: to buttress the offshore wind energy industry in the state; to expand the state’s forest conservation goals; and to attach new climate standards to an energy program for affordable housing.

Instead, delegates spent almost an hour debating a bill that would direct the state to adopt regulations aligning Maryland with stronger new California laws requiring manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks to sell an increasing number of zero-emissions vehicles. Republicans offered four amendments — most designed to keep Maryland from automatically following the Golden State’s electric vehicle standards.

“We are now California on the Chesapeake,” said House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany), who offered one of the amendments, that would have prohibited the adoption of any California standards until the completion of studies on the impact on Maryland’s economy, the state’s budget, and the electric grid. The amendment is based on a bill from Buckel that has not come up for a vote in the Environment and Transportation Committee.

Republicans spent less time complaining about the legislation, which they claimed has good intentions, than they did talking about Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s plans to adopt California’s new tough standards for electric vehicle sales. They also warned that many Marylanders will not be able to afford new electric vehicles in the future.

Earlier this year, the legislature adopted a bill from Moore that provides tax incentives for companies that convert their light duty truck fleets from gas-powered to electric, and also creates more incentives for the installation of EV charging stations and other infrastructure.

All four GOP amendments were rejected along party lines. The zero-emissions truck bill, from Del. Sara Love (D-Montgomery), will be up for a final vote in the House early next week. An identical bill from Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) passed the Senate in March, 33-11.

Meanwhile, the offshore wind and forest bills are scheduled for debate Monday in the House. The housing energy bill will be taken up on Tuesday.

Cannabis bill heads to the House

The Senate voted 32-12 Friday to send its version of the state recreational cannabis bill to the House of Delegates.

Senate Bill 516 seeks to establish a licensing, regulatory and tax structure for the industry that could begin selling to adults over 21 as early as July 1. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.

The House passed a similar bill, House Bill 556, earlier this month, which now awaits Senate action.

There are key differences in the bill including the proposed excise tax on cannabis sales — the Senate is proposing a flat 9% tax on July 1 while the House favors starting at 6% and phasing in later increases.

Those differences will have to be worked out between the two chambers before the General Assembly adjourns in 10 days.

Senate gives final approval to anti-price gouging bill

A measure giving the Office the Attorney General the ability to prosecute cases of price gouging now awaits Moore’s signature.

The Senate voted 39-8 to approve House Bill 775. The bill bars price hikes of 15% or more on goods or services deemed essential by the governor during a declared state of emergency.

The House recently passed the identical Senate Bill 542.

That’s the spirit

A bill to add Maryland Rye Whisky to a list of official state symbols now heads to the governor’s desk.

The Senate Friday unanimously approved House Bill 178. The bill, sponsored by former Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), adds the spirit to the list of nearly two dozen other state symbols that include a cat, dinosaur, butterfly, Blue Crab, and a locally popular confection.

The House unanimously passed the bill earlier this month.

The Senate also gave final approval to Senate Bill 497, its counterpart in the Senate. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore), now heads to the House.