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Workmanlike, for better and worse

Fraser Smith BigThe Maryland General Assembly completed another of its 90-day sessions in workmanlike style — for the most part.

Workmanlike, yes, but animated by potentially ruinous decrees from the new Donald Trump White House.

And then there were various levels of misbehavior — possible self-dealing — that turned out to be a session-long cloud over the proceedings.

Black senators and delegates found another exception to the session’s efficiency, insisting that bidding for a medical marijuana contract had somehow kept minority contractors out of the winning circle.

A special session has been suggested, but there’s no word yet if Gov. Larry Hogan will call one.

On the whole, he said, he was pleased with the assembly’s work. And why not? Most of  his important issues were addressed. And he had the luxury of watching his Democratic rivals diverted from their goal — unveiling his more conservative stripes.

  • A Trump budget blueprint that could decimate the state’s economy was ignored as lawmakers tackled more immediate concerns:
  • A financial crisis in Baltimore schools;
  • A fracking ban;
  • A first-in-the nation anti-price gouging bill aimed at drug companies;
  • A $400 budget deficit to cover;
  • Providing funds to enable the state attorney general to contest Trump administration actions injurious to Maryland.

Trump’s halting first steps gave Maryland a breather. The temporary respite seemed all the more important because Maryland has few if any influential representatives in the new administration.

Hogan’s decision to stay out of the presidential primary fray cannot help with a president who seems to demand unqualified support.

Hogan’s potential embarrassment in this sphere was offset by his high standing in the polls – and by ethical difficulties encountered by the Democrats.

Assembly leaders struggled to move beyond the appearance of self-dealing by two of its members.

In case anyone missed that challenge, a state senator was indicted by federal authorities for offering governmental favors in exchange for cash.

State Sen. Nathaniel Oaks chose to attend final day’s events after telling Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. he wanted to avoid a scene. In the end, a “scene” occurred as he settled into his seat. Nothing to be done. Innocent ‘til proven guilty, to be sure.

Cannabis and politics

At the same time, the House of Delegates sought to evade suggestions of self-dealing in the effort to establish a medical marijuana program in Maryland.

Before the session began, House leaders censured one of its members for taking a salary of sorts from one of the companies approved to participate in the program. Del. Dan Morhaim, a physician and the leading sponsor of the program, received compensation from one of the potential vendors – a decision that the assembly decided violated the spirit of its ethical guidelines.

Morhaim insists he did everything the guidelines require. If so, the guidelines need tightening. The idea that a legislator might be profiting  from a bill he championed simply might be the last thing legislative leaders could accept. In politics, it need hardly be repeated, appearance is reality.

To make the matter even more damaging for Morhaim and potentially for the House as well, continuing questions about who will have the medical marijuana licenses carried over past the end-of-session midnight Monday deadline.

The assembly was left to answer why minority bidders had not secured any of the 20 licenses.

Hogan is now asked to call a special session – essentially to bail out the Democratically-controlled assembly. Hogan may now delight in his opponents’ embarrassment or he can claim to have intervened to fix a Democratic problem.

Confronted by the legislative black caucus, House and Senate leaders backed a special session if their versions of a corrective measure could be agreed upon in advance.

The caucus meanwhile threatened to create substantial barriers to a smooth session next year.

Del. Cheryl Glen, the caucus chair, asked, “How can the Democratic Party pass anything in the legislature without us? How can they be successful in the next election without us?”

The bill would have provided seven more licenses. It would also provide for a commission to decide if the process represents a special disadvantage to black bidders.

In a typically workmanlike session, of course, all the business gets done before final adjournment. Sometimes, though, a little work remains,

In those cases, a workmanlike special session may be needed.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at smithfraser911@gmail.com.


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