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Opening Day in Md. legislature: Bipartisanship, followed by plans for veto override

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Gov. Larry Hogan takes a few moments to shake hands in the State House lobby before the opening ceremonies of the 2018 legislative session. (Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s 2018 General Assembly started as sessions always do, with calls for bipartisan cooperation and handshakes, jokes and the election of the two longest-serving presiding officers in the history of the state.

Thursday the work and the political positioning begins.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is finishing his last session before the November election, sounded very much like the Maytag repairman.

“It’s been lonely around here,” Hogan said of the lawmakers returning.

The comment is not without irony as Hogan frequently chided the legislature since his swearing-in, calling the 90-day sessions “spring break” or going on the road to speak to business groups and bragging about how he likes to get out of the state capital when lawmakers return to town.

The governor called on lawmakers to work together with him on tough issues just a day after he announced a bill certain intended to needle the veteran legislature. The bill, which has little chance of passage, would impose term limit of two consecutive terms in the House and Senate.

Hogan, a moderate Republican up for re-election this year, made reference to what is expected to be a bitter campaign in a state where Democrats control the legislature and outnumber Republicans 2-1.

He said he neither endorsed, campaigned for nor voted for Donald Trump but predicted his Democratic opponents will link him to the president’s controversial immigration, environmental and tax policies, which the governor says he opposes.

“I know (Democrats) want to tie me to Trump on every single issue,” he said, adding: “I’m just like them. I didn’t vote for (Trump) either.”

Both Hogan and legislative leaders agreed that they’ll have to assess the impact of the federal tax bill on Maryland.

But before that happens, the legislature could take up a vote to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that would mandate that businesses with 15 or more employees offer paid sick leave.

Hogan has offered emergency legislation he said is a compromise but supporters of the bill say the time for debate on the issue is over.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. both have promised an override.

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Del. Cheryl Glenn leads the Legislative Black Caucus in rolling out its 2018 agenda in the House Office Building. (Maximilian Franz)

The House of Delegates is expected to vote to override the bill first. That vote, which could come as early as Thursday, is expected to go smoothly.

It could be more difficult in the Senate, where 29 Democrats voted last year to pass the bill. The vote represents the minimum number needed to override a veto and there is some concern that political pressures and the coming election could cause some who voted for it to have second thoughts. Losing one vote would sustain Hogan’s veto.

Lawmakers will also start to take up some of the meatier issues of the session in short order.

On Thursday the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee holds hearing on the proposed Rape Survivor Family Protection Act.

Sponsors say the bill would allow judges to terminate the parental rights of a person alleged to cause the conception of a child through non-consensual sex. Critics raise concerns about the due process rights of a parent who has neither been charged nor convicted of sexual assault.

The bill failed to pass last year after becoming mired in a conference committee. This year, Busch and Miller vow it will pass.

Next week, the House will hold a hearing on expanding the number of medical cannabis grower licenses and setting them aside for minority owned businesses. The measure is another bill that failed in the waning seconds of the 2017 session and is not a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore City and chair of the caucus, said Busch and Miller were “on the same page” as members of the caucus and promised the bill would fly through the legislature are warp speed this year.

“We will have that bill passed in both chambers and on the desk of the governor no later than the end of January,” Glenn said.

Lawmakers will also take up the issue of sexual harassment in the General Assembly in the wake of the national #MeToo movement. Last month, a legislative policy committee passed changes to the harassment policies in what Miller called “a watershed moment” in the history of the General Assembly.

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Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch speak at the 2018 Annapolis Summit. (Maximilian Franz)

Miller said Wednesday he and Busch would be forming a commission to review the issue.

“What we’re going to have is a commission appointed by speaker and myself to take testimony have hearings and look at how other states deal with this issue and how the federal government deals with this issue and how corporations deal with this issue and make recommendations to the General Assembly so we can deal with this issue,” Miller said.

The legislative leaders also addressed violent crime in Baltimore, with the Senate president calling for more police and the speaker urging a greater focus on societal remedies, including job training and improved public transportation.

“Public safety has to be addressed and it has to be addressed immediately,” Miller said. “We are undermanned. There’s not enough police on the blocks and that has to be addressed along with the social issues.”

Busch said more trade schools and a more viable transportation system to get people to their jobs would contribute to reducing violence in Baltimore.

“I don’t think just locking people up is the answer to anything,” Busch said. “You have to entice people into a marketplace where they are going to get a decent living and a decent salary.”

Daily Record Legal Reporter Steve Lash contributed to this story.

 


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