WASHINGTON — In just one week, Maryland lawmakers will be back at work in Annapolis to begin a 90-day session.
Leaders say they hope to tackle a range of topics in this year’s session, including banning so-called “ghost guns,” criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana and extending harassment laws to more employees.
But the first order of business when the session begins Jan. 9 will be swearing in the 141 delegates and 47 senators. There are 43 new House members and 17 new state senators this year.
Delegate Kathleen Dumais, who was first elected in 2002 and has been appointed House Majority leader, said she looks forward to mentoring newcomers.
“It’s an awesome undertaking to become a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, and whatever I can do to help our new members, I’m happy to do,” she said.
Seventy-one women won seats in the Maryland General Assembly, and many are newcomers to the State House.
Dumais, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said getting the perspectives of the growing number of women in Annapolis is a welcome and important development.
“I’ve certainly seen it in the type of legislation that I’ve worked on over the 16 years I’ve been a member of the house — on family law, domestic violence and sexual assault legislation,” Dumais said.
While the Kirwan Commission continues to work on overhauling education policy and coming up with a formula to fund it, Dumais said lawmakers will continue to explore issues brought up in the commission’s report, including the expansion of early childhood education.
Dumais said lawmakers will look at banning so-called “ghost guns” as well as 3D-generated firearms. Proponents of the bans say that 3D-generated guns present a problem, because they can’t be detected using the type of scanners found at courthouses and airports.
It’s illegal to remove serial numbers from firearms, but federal law permits a person to buy the parts needed to assemble a firearm without any identifying marks, such as a serial number.
Delegate David Moon said he’ll be looking at legislation that would keep nonviolent offenders from being sentenced to serve jail time. He said he’s especially interested in looking at how and why people with mental illness often end up in the criminal justice system, instead of getting needed care.
“That is not a cheap problem to address, but I think increasingly it’s one that ordinary folks on both sides of the aisle realize is a big problem,” Moon said.
Moon said he will also work on legislation to make cannabis legal in the state. Possession of marijuana — less than 10 grams — has been decriminalized, but it is not legal unless it is medical marijuana.
Moon said he sees a potential for revenues from the cannabis industry to fund education, mental health and substance abuse services.
He also said that bills dealing with immigration will get more attention in this year’s session.
Maryland’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault had a number of legislative victories in 2018.
Executive Director and Counsel for the organization Lisae Jordan, said the “Me Too” movement has kept a spotlight on workers that don’t get protections under the current Maryland laws against harassment and discrimination.
Companies with fewer than 15 employees are not subject to a number labor laws that deal with harassment, Jordan said.
“We need to have protections for maids, we need to have protections for people who are helping with our gardens, who are taking out our trash, who are working as domestics,” she said. “We want to make sure that sexual harassment laws protect everyone.”
Jordan also wants to change the law that said if an employee faces sexual harassment, they have 300 days in which to report it.
“We need to change those things,” she said, noting that in cases of sexual harassment, victims may delay reporting for a number of reasons, including fear of losing work. “We need to give women and men a longer time to report,” she said.
Lawmakers will be in Annapolis until the final day of the session, “Sine Die,” on April 8.
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