Maryland’s lawmaking session is at the halfway point, and Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson offered an assessment of how things are going so far.
“Things get much more intense” once the session gets past the 40-day point, Ferguson told reporters Friday.
One of the questions Ferguson answered was about efforts to keep the Washington Commanders football team from moving to either D.C. or Virginia.
“Look, we would love to keep the Commanders in Maryland,” Ferguson said. “What will not happen is we will not be used as a tool to get a better deal elsewhere.”
Virginia and D.C. have expressed interest in attracting the team. Ferguson said it would be “essential” that the Commanders organization come up with an offer “that they will be a tool for economic redevelopment wherever they decide to locate here in the state.”
As for incentives the state might offer, Ferguson said there would have to be conversations with the team.
“What I can say that the Senate will do is be ready to partner if there is a clear commitment of an ongoing investment here in the state of Maryland,” Ferguson said.
Washington Commanders’ Vice President of Public Affairs Joe Maloney told WTOP that the team has no comment.
Ferguson said lawmakers are focused on the priorities that concern Marylanders, “their pocketbooks, their future and their health.”
He also said that legislators are working on crime, including a package that addresses “prevention, intervention, justice and rehabilitation.”
One question Ferguson answered was on the debate over Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed bill on judicial transparency. Under the bill, sentences handed down by individual judges would be available on a public database.
“I think there is a growing sense that transparency is a positive thing and we can make better policy if we have more information,” Ferguson said.
Hogan’s bill on the judiciary was submitted as emergency legislation, meaning it would go into effect upon passage.
Among the amendments to the bill is one that would remove the emergency mechanism. Ferguson said there was a need to deal with setting up a system to aggregate the data, something the emergency timeline wouldn’t allow. “We’d be passing something and setting an unrealistic expectation,” Ferguson said.
Another change to the original bill would remove the analysis of judicial decisions in violent crime cases on an individual basis. Instead of looking at the track record of individual judges, the bill would provide information based on jurisdiction. Ferguson said that presents some issues, as well.
“If you have two different judges or two different counties with the exact same crime, the facts could be totally different with two different sentences, and they would be totally reasonable and make sense,” he said.
A separate crime bill also proposed by Hogan would toughen sentences for violent offenders who use illegally possess firearms.
Ferguson said there are some challenges with the bill, which has been moved by the Senate twice only to languish in the House.
“I think before the Senate would take it up again, we’d want to see some movement in the other chamber so that we know we’re not throwing it into the wind,” Ferguson said.
Paid family and medical leave remain priorities, as well.
“The Senate is going to continue pushing that forward and leading the conversation to bring people around the table to get that done this year,” Ferguson said.
While Hogan has pushed for tax relief plans that would target all retirees, Ferguson sounded a cautious note.
“We must be financially prudent,” Ferguson said, warning against approving a commitment that could result in the state facing a “fiscal cliff” in the next three or four years.
Another bill calls for cutting greenhouse gases by 60% by 2030. It would require builders to shift away from oil and gas energy in new construction.
“Look, the climate bill’s going to get done this year,” Ferguson said. “Everyone wants to see reductions in carbon emissions and reductions in greenhouse gases. How you get there is the key question.”
At the start of the session, a bill was submitted that would update public information act requests to include communications from apps that allow texts to disappear.
Asked if he used apps like Wicker, which includes an option for a “burn on read” function, Ferguson didn’t answer directly.
He said that navigating the proliferation of messaging apps can be a challenge for lawmakers, who want to keep in touch with constituents and staff.
“People communicate with their families and spouses in many different ways. For public business, it should be public,” Ferguson said.