Maryland’s General Assembly proposed legislation to help better prepare the state for cyberattacks late Monday night as it approaches the midnight adjournment of its 90-day annual session.
Lawmakers also passed bills increasing the minimum age of marriage, banning many uses of chemicals known as PFAS, and protecting witnesses and victims of crime in Baltimore.
But much of the Democratic leadership’s agenda was marked by priorities struck over the weekend in a flurry of votes on Saturday that overruled Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s Friday vetoes. The push left few high-profile battles, but still important work for the final hours of the annual 90-day legislative session.
Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, suggested on Monday afternoon that cybersecurity legislation was a top priority among pending legislation. This included proposals to invest more than $500 million in strengthening the state’s cybersecurity by creating a centralized Maryland network and helping local governments pay for cyberattack preparedness.
A bill, called the Modernize Maryland Act of 2022, was being reviewed by a conference committee hours before the end of the session. Another, the Local Cybersecurity Support Act of 2022, rolled out of the conference committee and headed for the governor’s office.
“I would say the vast majority of the big issues we had have already crossed the finish line,” Ferguson said. “I think it was not just a successful session, it was a historic session.”
Bills are already on the verge of becoming laws expanding access to abortion, reducing the use of fossil fuels, launching a paid family leave program for most workers and sending the legalization of marijuana to voters to decide. Lawmakers also endorsed efforts to crack down on the possession of so-called “ghost guns” that lack serial numbers and to reform the juvenile justice system to update sentencing, incarceration and detention laws. interrogations.
On top of that, a massive state budget surplus meant lawmakers from both parties could join Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in temporarily suspending the gas tax as fuel prices rose and also in providing nearly $2 billion in tax relief for retirees and parents of young children. as economic confidence plummets. The surplus is the product of an increase in federal spending and a faster-than-expected rebound in sales and income taxes from the COVID-19-induced recession.
Towards the end of his second term, Hogan called the last 90 days “our best session yet after eight years”, adding: “We managed to accomplish almost everything we set out to accomplish.” He cited tax cuts and a new map of less gerrymandered congressional districts.
With hours to legislate on Monday, lawmakers and the governor hoped to make a final push to secure passage of some of their own unfinished priorities, such as a package of anti-crime Hogan proposals.
Hogan suggested his proposal to impose tougher sentences for gun crimes has broad support and criticized Democrats for not bringing it forward: “I don’t know how they’re going to explain that. voters, but it’s up to them to find out.”
General Assembly members will face voters on the ballot this year, with a party primaries looming in July. Monday is also the last day for polishing legislative resumes or making floor speeches for those running for re-election or trying to get into a different political office. And for outgoing members, this will be their last chance to soak up the State House as a serving member.
It remains to be seen how many proposals, if any, out of nearly 2,500 pieces of legislation, will be retained.
A bill that Baltimore officials sought to better protect witnesses and victims of crimes passed with just over an hour to go. The legislation would require state corrections officials to notify city police when someone is released on bail, addressing a miscommunication that city officials say has tested efforts to curb violent crime.
The Marriage Age Bill is one that the Legislature has repeatedly debated in previous sessions. A conference committee resolved differences between the House and Senate versions to set a minimum marriage age of 17 and require teenagers to have their parents’ permission to marry; if they don’t, it poses a series of hurdles before they can get married. Previously, the minimum age for marriage was 15, with an exception that allowed marriage without parental permission in the event of pregnancy.
The PFAS ban dramatically restricts the manufacture and use of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS or “chemicals forever”, banning them in fire-fighting foams, paper for food packaging and rugs and carpets. Studies have shown that PFAS may be linked to adverse health effects including decreased fertility, low birth weight, impaired immune system, increased cholesterol and obesity and interference hormonal.
Although the legislative session began amid a resurgent coronavirus pandemic in January, nearly all General Assembly business has returned to in-person business – with lobbyists, reporters and the public present and watching. Celebrations at the State House come at midnight, when the two houses adjourn “sine die”, a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “without [a] day,” may include more typical pre-pandemic festivities.
The legislature abruptly adjourned its 2020 session more than two weeks earlier than the pandemic hit. The 90-day legislative session in 2021 was uninterrupted but featured significant security measures, including delegates split between two chambers, linked by video, to keep lawmakers out of the way and a Senate floor turned into a maze of Plexiglas enclosures resembling telephone booths.
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While things haven’t quite returned to pre-pandemic normal, the difference from recent sessions was evident on Monday, Ferguson said.
“When we arrived here 90 days ago, the context was very, very different. We were still in a near-lockdown mode and it’s quite remarkable to think about what 90 days later can look like,” he said. “We did a really outstanding job on every level.”
In the House of Delegates, it was the first time all members had been in the chamber for sine die since 2019, when they marked the end of the legislative session with somber memories of the former Speaker of the House , Michael Busch. Anne Arundel County Democrat had died a day earlier.
On Monday, they opened an evening on the floor with memories by unveiling Busch’s official portrait just to the left of the rostrum from which he conducted House business for 16 years, the longest in the history of the State. D. Bruce Poole, a former delegate who served with Busch, said the oil painting captured Busch’s energy, approachability and sense of humor well, depicting him with an unbuttoned blazer and a sweet smile in front of a bright blue background.
“It really personifies it and it really goes to the heart of how you succeed in politics,” Poole said.
In the background of the legislative frenzy, there were also nods to rejoicing in the state’s largest city about 40 miles away, where the Baltimore Orioles took on the Milwaukee Brewers.
Of the. Sandy Rosenberg, a Democrat from Baltimore, opened the House’s first session of the day with an opening prayer that was inspired by Jackie Robinson and former Oriole Frank Robinson overcoming discrimination in baseball. He ended the prayer with, “It’s opening day, play ball, amen.”