Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed nearly 200 bills last week to officially become law, but the state’s leader will have to use more pens after lawmakers approved hundreds more.
The bills signed included ones that reform the University of Maryland Medical System board of directors, allow Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to create its own police force, classify human trafficking as a violent crime and a felony, and designate June 28 as “Freedom of the Press Day” in honor of the five Capital Gazette employees killed in last year’s shooting in Annapolis.
The governor also signed about 10 that directly affect Prince George’s County, including legislation that penalizes the illegal disposal of bulky items, installs speed cameras along Route 210 and provides property tax credits for businesses that build grocery stores in areas labeled food deserts.
The annual bill-signing day, which usually happens the day after the General Assembly ends, took place Thursday, April 17 after Hogan decided to postpone it out of respect for the late House Speaker Michael Busch. The venerable Democrat died April 7 of pneumonia following complications from a 2017 liver transplant, one day before the legislature adjourned.
The governor has until May 28 to review hundreds of pieces of legislation lawmakers approved during the 90-day General Assembly.
Lawmakers overrode Hogan vetoes of two bills, one which would gradually increase the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15 and another that would designate oyster sanctuaries in five tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
Hogan will hold three more bill signings Tuesday, April 30 and May 13 and 23. He has until May 28 to either sign remaining legislation into law or veto them, as any bills at his desk will automatically become law if not signed or vetoed by the deadline.
Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s County, said an overall progressive agenda with new lawmakers received approval in a short amount of time.
“Quite a bit happened. It was without a doubt a productive session,” he said.
Eberly said the influence of Busch, who served the longest term as House speaker in state history, will be felt.
“I haven’t taught or even studied Maryland politics at a time when Speaker Busch wasn’t the speaker of the House,” he said. “More importantly than anything, the Democratic party in the state and in the assembly has always had an uneasy coalition of progressives, moderates and conservative members.
“Even Republicans had a great deal of respect for him,” Eberly said. “Everybody knew Busch was a partisan. He had his preferences, but he was a pragmatist above all else. It is big shoes to fill.”
Three delegates — Dereck Davis (D-District 25), Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) — have expressed interest in becoming the next speaker. Any of the three would make history if chosen, as no woman or Black has ever held the position.
Before the House of Delegates hold a special session May 1 to choose a speaker, a coalition of activists, union and community leaders have a few questions.
According to a questionnaire organized by the ACLU of Maryland and released the same day as Thursday’s bill signing, speaker candidates are asked how they will govern the state based on transparency, accessibility and decentralization of power.
Some of the questions, with some requesting an explanation, are:
• As a general rule, should legislation advance if it has the support of the majority of the Democratic Caucus or majority support from all members of the Maryland General Assembly?
• Will you require that committee chairs make reasonable efforts to publish a tentative order of bill hearings 24 hours in advance?
• What is your vision for more diverse and inclusive leadership in the House of Delegates and how do you intend to effectuate that vision?
Speaker candidates were asked to submit the surveys by Wednesday, April 24. The replies will be published “as a public education service” before next week’s special session, the ACLU said.
“We need to know where House speaker candidates stand on good governance issues because they will shape the direction of the state for decades to come,” Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “Marylanders deserve and rightly demand that legislators demystify the political process and allow for greater civic engagement. Moreover, decentralization of power, diversity and inclusion affords our communities more robust and representative debate on important issues.”