By Jacob Owens firstname.lastname@example.org
ANNAPOLIS — As rising temperatures thawed out a frozen state this week, might heartfelt well-wishes and issues of shared concern help warm feelings in the Maryland General Assembly ahead of what will surely be a contentious gubernatorial election season?
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch, often adversaries in the debates of the 90-day state legislative session that kicked off Wednesday afternoon, put aside old differences to offer appreciations.
Busch, who was diagnosed with liver disease after last year’s session and successfully underwent a liver transplant donated by his sister, thanked Hogan for reaching out to offer his prayers. Hogan fought his own battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015.
“(Busch) and I have probably disagreed on a couple issues, but we both went through life-challenging medical conditions and became extended-stay guests of the University of Maryland Medical System,” Hogan said Wednesday in addressing the House at the start of the 2018 session. “I reached out right away and I was praying for you every day. I’m so happy that you’re better.”
While conceding that posturing was likely in an election year, Busch encouraged his colleagues to approach the session with “open optimism.”
“As I stand here today, in some respects a miracle of modern medicine, I want to thank all of you for the phone calls, letters and emails,” Busch said. “I think with all of the turmoil going on in Washington, D.C., it’s important for us to make sure that we work together to solve problems, not create them.”
Hogan, who is running for re-election against a slate of Democratic challengers, concurred, asking lawmakers to stay focused for the session.
“I promise you that we’re going to do everything we can to put aside politics,” he added. “We have plenty of time to campaign. Let’s try to spend the next 90 days talking with each other and finding compromise.”
In his opening address, Busch identified dealing with taxes after the federal reform, shoring up the health insurance market especially in regards to uncovered children, addressing the growing opioid crisis, and preventing offshore drilling and creating more renewable energy as his top legislative goals this year. He said that he also expected to entertain ideas on how to drive down the murders and rate of violent crime in Baltimore that have spiked in recent years.
“If we don’t help bring down violent crime in Baltimore, it will have a negative effect on everyone in the state of Maryland,” he said.
Despite some calls for bipartisanship, however, most held on to some skepticism.
“This is going to be a rockin’ and rollin’ session,” said Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat. “So stay tuned, and get plenty of rest.”
Teresa Reilly (R-Harford/Cecil) said she, too, was prepared for the election season to eventually make a difference in the session.
“You’re always hopeful that the campaign doesn’t play a part, but unfortunately that does happen,” she said. “You try to keep it out, but it tends to find a way back in.”
On the issues, Delegate Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil) said that he expects discussions on taxes to take up a large part of the assembly this year in the wake of the Congressional Republican tax reform plan passed in December.
“The tax plan passed actually creates a windfall for Maryland and we’re all going to work to return that windfall to citizens,” he said. “There’s a lot of debate on how to do that. I’m exploring one strategy that would be an earned income tax credit at the state level.”
On Tuesday, Hogan told state Republicans that this is the first time in the modern era that Maryland has gone three years without tax increases, Hornberger said.
“We want to keep that momentum going,” he added.
In the meantime, both Reilly and her District 35B colleague Andrew Cassilly (R-Harford/Cecil) will be submitting bills concerning the opioid crisis.
Reilly hopes to pass a law creating new criminal penalties for those who sell drugs to a minor and the minor subsequently dies from an overdose. A similar bill for all overdose victims regardless of age failed to pass in 2015, but Reilly said she has hopes this refined take will pass.
“We had a situation in Harford County that makes this issue personal, so we’ve been working with the sheriff on this bill,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Cassilly will introduce a bill that would look to fine those who receive three administrations of naloxone, the lifesaving drug also known by its brand name Narcan that reverses opioid overdoses. If that recipient doesn’t pay the fine, he or she could face a short stay in jail — something Cassilly hopes may serve as an intervention for those who are risking death.
“Hopefully in that 30-day stay in jail we could at least get them off the physical addiction to heroin,” he said. “The goal of the bill isn’t to raise funds, but to try to reach those individuals who have given up seeking any kind of treatment and are using Narcan as a failsafe.”
While Cassilly was not able to pass a bill last year that would have made reporting overdose information to law enforcement mandatory, he said that hospitals have begun doing so even without a law requiring it.
“I think some good came out of the bill. It doesn’t matter how you accomplish the goal as long as it gets done,” he said.
Hornberger said he was preparing legislation on alcohol service and sheriff’s office bargaining unit as requested by county officials, and was informed of a new request this week concerning the Cecil County Detention Center.
One issue that went largely undiscussed Wednesday was a proposal announced by Hogan to seek term limits for lawmakers. This week, the governor proposed that state legislators be limited to two consecutive four-year terms rather than unending terms, saying the lack of limits “has led to out-of-control partisanship, meaningless political spin, the stifling of honest debate and fresh ideas, the inability to get things done, gerrymandering, one-party monopolies, and an increased potential for the time of corruption that we have seen here.”
Although Hogan proposes to grandfather in existing lawmakers, it strikes at leaders like Busch and State Senate President Mike Miller, both of whom have led their chambers for more than a decade. As an amendment to the state Constitution, it would require passage by a super majority of the assembly and approval by voters at referendum, though.
The members of the Cecil County Delegation said they weren’t opposed to the idea of discussing term limits.
“I think it’s a good idea. I like term limits, because I think it keeps people fresh,” Cassilly said. “I know there’s some fear that you lose some institutional knowledge, but if you can set it up in such a fashion that you have advisor positions it could be successful. In my opinion, it takes two years to really get a base understanding.”
Hornberger said that concessions, such as allowing a lawmaker to return to service after a break, may make the governor’s proposal more palatable in the General Assembly.