Pimlico bill stalls; measure to boost renewable energy goals passes
Bryan P. Sears//April 8, 2019
Pimlico bill stalls; measure to boost renewable energy goals passes
//April 8, 2019
ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s General Assembly adjourned the 2019 session in silence.
A 90-day session punctuated with the typical fare of education and environment and transportation and public safety bills was overshadowed by the death of the state’s longest serving leader of the House of Delegates. The House and Senate along with Gov. Larry Hogan ended the 90-day session in a rare joint session to remember House Speaker Michael Busch.
“Sine die, Mike,” Speaker Pro Tem Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, said softly using the traditional Latin phrase meaning without a day. “Sine die.”
Red and yellow and black balloons fell silently from the gallery above the rostrum where Busch presided over the House since 2003. Missing were the cheers and confetti that almost always fell in clumps on the speaker and others.
Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery and chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, spoke of a conversation he had with Busch on Wednesday while the speaker was still in the hospital but hoping to return.
“His spirit was strong, but his voice was weak,” said Barve. “It began to scare me.”
The two spoke of politics and what was going on in Barve’s committee.
“Mike Busch was a man for whom life and love and policy were all motivated by the same very simple focus on what is good and decent for individual people, for communities or for situations,” Barve said. “He was a man who saw the good in every individual no matter how flawed they were. He based his view point of life and policy on the fact that there was this good thing in everybody that could be brought out. That was his gift.”
Earlier in the day, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. choked up and fought back tears as he spoke to reporters and during the Senate’s first floor session.
“Up until yesterday, it was very positive,” Miller said. “What happened yesterday puts a pall over the session.”
Busch, who became leader of the House in 2003, is the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history.
One of the first orders of business for the Senate was to override Hogan’s fourth veto of the session — a bill sponsored by Busch designating five permanent oyster sanctuaries.
In the House, Busch was remembered in the chamber’s morning opening prayer. Alexandra Hughes, Busch’s chief of staff, stood in her usual spot behind the rostrum and wept as Del. David Fraser Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, lead a moment of silence.
Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County and Speaker Pro Tem, said she was thinking about Busch as she stepped to the rostrum, which was draped in black bunting, and “hoping, I said, let me not mess up.”
Jones said she thought about Busch being “in heaven” with former Gov. Harry Hughes, who died earlier this year, “trading stories.”
“It just gave me comfort,” said Jones. “I know he’s in a better place. He’s not in any pain or anything. But it was difficult, the first time, when you actually know he’s not coming to this chamber.”
Busch’s death also changed another end-of-session ritual, the first bill signing. A spokesman for Hogan said that the signing originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, hours after the session ends, will be postponed to an as yet undetermined date. Additional bill signings are scheduled for April 16 and 30.
In the House, Democrats and Republicans met separately Monday, as did the Legislative Black Caucus, partly to discuss the process of choosing a new speaker.
“It’s going to be hard to replace someone of (Busch’s) stature but I’m looking forward to seeing who the next speaker will be and what the process will be,” said Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. “We’re going to look at all our options to see who is the most qualified candidate to be the next speaker of the House.”
House rules call for a replacement to be named in the event of a permanent vacancy. The rule, however, gives no timeline for making that decision.
“The rules are clear, in the event of a permanent vacancy, we do need to elect a new speaker but until we do, (Jones) can continue to serve in that position,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery and majority leader in the House.
Jones is said to want the job as speaker but there are other candidates for the position who have been laying the groundwork for two years, including House Appropriations Chairwoman Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, and Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee.
McIntosh, should she be elected speaker, would become the first woman and first openly gay leader of the House as well as the first from Baltimore since former Gov. Marvin Mandel in the 1969.
Davis, who will likely need the help of House Republicans, could become the first black speaker of the House and the first from Prince George’s County since 1962.
Barve is also said to be in the mix of delegates wishing to be considered for the top spot.
Observers also speculated that a more progressive member of the Democratic Caucus might throw his or her name in as a possible candidate.
During the day, there were flurries of activity as a number of measures proceeded or ground to a halt.
Pro-Second Amendment advocates restated their opposition to a bill that would impose background checks on long gun purchases. The measure has been linked by supporters as a response to the June 28 murder of five employees of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis. The shotgun used in that attack was legally purchased, and supporters acknowledge that the bill likely would not have prevented the purchase of the weapon.
That bill ultimately died as the House wrapped up its work at 11:30 p.m. without taking it up.
Gun rights advocates already lost one battle when the General Assembly passed a bill abolishing the Handgun Permit Review Board. Critics said the board was overturning decisions of the Maryland State Police too many times and want to send future appeals to an administrative law judge.
Meanwhile, a compromise measure billed as an effort to force the owners of Pimlico Race Cours, who also own the racetrack in Laurel, to invest in improvements at the aging Baltimore facility failed. The Baltimore City delegation in the House rejected the compromise, saying it didn’t require racing at Pimlico or protect the future of the Preakness in Baltimore.
“I think we go back to the status quo,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, who championed the package crafted in the Senate. “We try to find a way to get willing partners around the table. It has been a stalemate and stagnant for 16 years for a reason, and that’s because it is hard and this is complex and there are a lot of emotions and history and finances involved. And so, those are situations that scream for leadership, and hopefully we can put the right team together to make sure that we can figure this out for the 21st century racing in Maryland.”
But other members of the city delegation said the compromise bill is a loser for the city and another step toward ending racing at Pimlico. Sen. Antonio Hayes, chairman of the city’s Senate delegation, said the bill would have allowed Pimlico to fall further into disrepair under the management of the Stronach Group.
“Hopefully, we can use this session actions to bring them to the table for a real conversation around the development of Pimlico,” said Hayes.
Additionally, a bill to increase Maryland’s renewable electricity standard from 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030 passed in the final hours.
The General Assembly also put the finishing touches on ethics and oversight legislation for the University of Maryland Medical System’s board after about a third of board members received compensation for themselves or their businesses.
Jones noted that the House version of the bill was the final legislation sponsored by Busch, a longtime member of the UMMS board.
Business writer Tim Curtis contributed to this story.