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In a year of such abundance, in a year when everyone is trying to look good with the next election just around the corner, it’s hard to screw up a legislative session.
And that’s mainly what happened.
The General Assembly session that ended at midnight Monday was intense at times, and confusing. The early COVID-19 protocols gave way to a more normal feeling session as the omicron variant became less of a public health threat. But the hybrid nature of the session left many people in the Annapolis orbit on unsure footing, and the session at times seemed hard to track, without a clear narrative.
Still, many lawmakers rose to the occasion, crafting well-intentioned legislation meant to address an array of societal ills. Lobbyists and most advocacy groups also racked up many scores.
It helped that the state had a huge budget surplus and that the pipeline of federal largesse keeps gushing.
So how are we to evaluate this session? Let us subscribe to the wisdom that success has a thousand fathers and mothers, while failure is an orphan. In other words, we’ve got far more winners listed here than losers — and we’re probably only scratching the surface.
We’re including far fewer lobbyists, lobbying firms, special interests and advocacy groups on our winners and losers list than we have in previous years — not because they didn’t work hard or have it easy. But conditions, to say the least, were by and large favorable.
So here’s our list of winners and losers and those in the “push” column.
Winner: Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R)
Hogan called it his best session yet, and he’s not wrong (it’s also his last). He made the Democrats play defense on redistricting, and while he didn’t get everything he wanted with the congressional district map, he made average citizens more aware of the Democrats’ extreme gerrymandering than ever before, forcing the judicial branch and the legislative branch to respond like never before. He may yet get a bigger win on legislative redistricting — we should know very soon.
Hogan did not get a major win on his anti-crime legislation, but he probably set the tone of the conversation and forced Democrats to react. He also got to boast about enacting some tax relief — though not the full-on elimination of taxes on retiree earnings that he was seeking. He, along with legislative leaders and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), provided real relief for motorists struggling with high gasoline prices by freezing the state’s 36-cent gas tax — but only for 30 days.
Loser: Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R)
Why are we calling the governor a loser when we just called him a winner? Why didn’t we put him in the “push” category? Simply to call attention to the fact that Hogan’s legislative strategy has always puzzled us.
He’s got unparalleled political instincts, a great communications team and a robust polling operation. So why has he never put in the work when it comes to moving his legislative agenda? Why would he rather issue press releases, go on supportive broadcast media, issue statements at Board of Public Works meetings and declare victory for half measures than roll up his sleeves and achieve real legislative victories?
And can we please end once and for all the fallacy that Hogan has raised zero taxes during his eight years in office? His administration this year sponsored a measure, which passed, to extend to 2028 the assessment of a health insurance provider fee to stabilize the state’s health care market. In short, it’s a tax on health insurers that was first implemented in Hogan’s first term — so yes, a tax hike.
Winner: Keiffer J. Mitchell
Hogan’s legislative liaison gets to claim a share of the credit for Hogan’s big session. Looking like a football coach, lugging his weekly playbook around as he prowled the halls of the legislative campus, Mitchell was the only member of the administration visibly working the governor’s agenda over the past 90 days. And we loved his Sine Die seersucker suit.
Push: House-Senate relations
Winner: Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s)
Three years after helping to rally the House Democratic caucus around Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) as the next and history-making speaker of the House, Peña-Melnyk now steps into her own history-making role.
As the new chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, she becomes the highest-ranking Latino in the history of the General Assembly.
At the end of the long and tense speaker’s election in 2019, Peña-Melnyk said this: “Tonight, there will be little girls – Black, Brown, Asian, white – that are going to watch the news and say, ‘I can do that.’ And that is beautiful and inspiring.”
It’s true again with her appointment.
Winner: Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George’s)
He was the legislature’s chief negotiator on a package bringing $400 million in economic development aid to his home county for a sports and entertainment complex — regardless of whether the Washington Commanders football team eventually builds a new stadium there. And he handled the debate over the capital budget with aplomb. Those are the kinds of skills a future Appropriations Committee chair should display — and Barnes officially got the job on Monday night.
Winner: Prince George’s County
The county got an additional $26.5 million in state education formula funding, thanks to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform bill.
And the General Assembly passed a bill — signed into law on Tuesday — that will allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to spend $400 million on an array of recreational and entertainment venues in central Prince George’s County.
Other wins for the county? The two new House committee chairs from District 21.
Winner: Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery)
She spent much of the 2021 session defending legislation to increase access to abortion and reproductive health care, drawing fierce opposition from anti-abortion advocates. At the end of a tough session, Kelly kept her cool, didn’t pick fights with the bill’s foes (she’s a former head of Maryland NARAL), saw the Abortion Care Access Act enacted over gubernatorial veto and was appointed as the new vice chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.
Winner: Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery)
Feldman, the vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, steered three of the session’s most controversial bills through the chamber. He served as floor leader on legislation that would go into effect if voters approve a marijuana legalization referendum in November and the bill to establish a paid family medical leave program in Maryland. He and Finance Chair Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) successfully defended a measure expanding abortion access through the Senate.
But there’s a question about whether Feldman has gone about as far as he can go in Senate leadership. With Kelley due to retire at the end of this legislative term, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) will be under intense pressure to put a woman of color in charge of the Finance panel — and that ain’t Feldman.
Winner: Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City)
Hayes has been advocating for a statewide paid family leave program since 2019 and was finally able to establish a program into law this year, while also welcoming a child of his own. Earlier this year, both chambers had advanced different programs, with the House proposing to establish a commission to study a family leave program instead, which left the proposal in a precarious spot. But the chambers compromised to establish a statewide paid family leave program so that Marylanders can start receiving benefits in January 2025.
Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George’s) has also been co-sponsoring a statewide paid leave program alongside Hayes for the last four years and deserves plenty of credit.
Winner: Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard and Montgomery … for now)
Hester, one of the more moderate Democrats in the legislature, ends the legislative session in a district with a heavier Democratic lean thanks to the redistricting handiwork of party leaders, and with a few big bills to tout on the campaign trail. In fact, she sponsored a dozen successful bills this legislative session, including two mega-measures aimed at bolstering the cybersecurity response of state and local governments.
The cybersecurity bills were a heavy lift and her defense of them did not always endear Hester to her colleagues. The measures faced deep scrutiny in committee and on the Senate and House floors, most notably by Del. Reid Novotny (R) — who plans to run against her in their newly drawn Senate district.
Winners: The Ravens and the Orioles
With very little drama, Baltimore’s two major league franchises got a big financial commitment from the state to improve their stadiums. Now, if only the O’s could improve their on-field product.
Winner: Attorney General Brian Frosh (D)
Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), who will retire this year after a 35-year-career in elected office, racked up legislative victories this session, sponsoring legislation that bans untraceable “ghost” guns in Maryland and seeing some recommendations of the COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force he convened become law.
Among those recommendations were funding to provide lawyers to tenants facing evictions; the General Assembly set aside $12 million for that purpose next year and took steps to add more funding in the future.
Frosh also won with measures to direct investigations of “alleged or potential police-involved death of a civilian” to the Independent Investigations Division of the Office of the Attorney General and to update Maryland’s data breach law to provide more consumer protection.
And the General Assembly passed bills, signed into law Tuesday, to implement the Office of the Attorney General’s opioids settlement with major pharmaceutical distributors and the opioids manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. The state’s payment is expected to be $395 million over the next 18 years.
Winners: Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery)
Backed by gun control advocates, Lee and Lopez have sponsored legislation to stop the flow of ghost guns into Maryland over multiple legislative sessions. This year, they got the measure across the finish line, just before President Joe Biden released a federal rule to regulate untraceable firearms.
Their work garnered an invitation to visit the White House for Biden’s announcement. Lopez was able to attend, as was Frosh, but Lee remained in Annapolis, where the Senate skipped an afternoon break.
Winners: Department of Legislative Services staffers
War metaphors are overused these days, especially with all the carnage taking place in Ukraine. And yet, the General Assembly’s central office staffers performed admirably in combat-like conditions, working out of cramped and random temporary digs while the Legislative Services office building gets a major makeover.
Winner: Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City)
Not only did she have a good session generally, but she managed to work several consequential bills that reinforced the perception that she’s thought a lot about and is well-prepared for the job she’s seeking this year: state comptroller.
Winner: Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel)
Did anyone work harder or pass a wider array of legislation this session? With a potentially tough reelection fight ahead — or at least, a well-funded Republican opponent — it was a good time for Elfreth to peak as a legislative force. On top of that, the newly drawn 3rd congressional district might look enticing sometime down the line.
Loser: Legislative women’s caucus
In what should have been a triumphant 50th anniversary session, the Women Legislators of Maryland, the oldest bipartisan legislative women’s caucus in the country, was ripped apart by partisan strife, when members bypassed a Republican delegate who was next in line to be caucus leader. Now it isn’t even clear if Republicans will participate in the caucus in the coming year. The new leaders have ambitious plans to heal the divisions and bring the membership together, but whether they’ll succeed remains to be seen.
Push: Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s)
In contrast to the legislative women’s caucus, the officer elections for the Legislative Black Caucus, which Barnes has led since 2018, was pretty harmonious this year, and the caucus passed many of its legislative priorities. But Barnes caught flak from LBC members for his decision to endorse Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) for governor immediately after Franchot held an event at Bowie State University recently with U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Winner: Legislative Latino Caucus
From public health to transportation equity to economic opportunity to environmental bills, the caucus had a good session — and it got even better with Peña-Melnyk’s ascension.
Winner: Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard)
The chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee runs the smoothest and most reliable ship in the Senate, filled with grown-ups. The panel worked especially well with the House Appropriations Committee this year, ensuring that Hogan would not block lawmakers’ top spending priorities.
Winner: Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City)
Baltimore City’s top champion in Annapolis gets to ride off into the sunset a big winner, with budget victories, a new arts funding program named for her and a new Airstream waiting to whisk her and her wife to wherever their hearts desire.
Winner: Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett)
Forty years in Annapolis and he’s still the same courtly, self-effacing and hardworking lawmaker. The next senator from Mountain Maryland will have very big boots to fill.
Winner: Leonard L. Lucchi
The lawyer/lobbyist and wily Prince George’s County political veteran happened to work on two of the most important bills to emerge this session: Paid family leave and climate change. He’s also chair of the board of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, so the bill banning ghost guns goes into his win column as well. (Disclosure: Lucchi sits on the Maryland Matters Board of Directors.)
Losers: The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and NFIB
For losing the debate over paid family leave.
Winner: Time to Care Coalition
There was no guarantee that a paid sick leave bill would pass this year. But the Time to Care Coalition was smart, strategic and indefatigable. It now has more than 2,000 members (organizations and individuals) and kept the issue front and center despite the busy legislative agenda.
Maryland Rise, another advocacy group, pumped lots of money into paid ads that also kept paid leave prominent over the past few months.
Loser: The ACLU of Maryland
Clear rifts have developed between the civil rights organization and state lawmakers who were critical of its leadership following the publication of a blog post alleging that Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the first Black person to head the panel, aids and abets white supremacy. The legislature passed progressive-minded bills in spite of the ACLU’s public dissatisfaction, including the Child Interrogation Protection Act — one of the organization’s legislative priorities.
Loser: Paraphernalia decriminalization
Legislation to decriminalize drug paraphernalia was buried deep in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee drawer following a late 2021 upset when Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) tabled the effort to override its veto during the December special session. Ferguson said that the legislation, which passed out of the House chamber in March 2021, would be reconsidered in 2022. It never happened.
Winner: Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s)
The Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee chair was able to pass The Climate Solutions Now Act, which sets the state on track to achieve carbon neutral emissions by 2045, after the bill’s sudden collapse last year. The national League of Conservation Voters called it “the most significant action on climate we have seen anywhere in the country.”
The bill didn’t look exactly the way Pinsky envisioned it. Utility and gas companies convinced lawmakers to get rid of the bill’s strongest requirement for new buildings to use electric power, rather than fossil fuels, to provide space and water heating by 2024, reflecting the industry’s influence over state policy.
Still, for Pinsky, it represents a second capstone legislative achievement after playing an integral role in establishing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan a few years back. Can combined reporting be next?
On the climate bill, Dels. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and Dana L. Stein (D-Baltimore County), chair and co-chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, and Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), also share in the credit.
Winner: House Ways and Means Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard)
Even in her new role as chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, the former House Judiciary Committee vice chair stood by legislation to raise the age when minors are allowed to marry. Atterbeary finally saw the bill reach the governor’s desk after sponsoring different iterations over the past seven years.
Winner: Tenants and their advocates
Hogan still could veto some significant tenant protection measures passed by the General Assembly — but tenants, who make up roughly 40% of Maryland residents, showed significant sway among lawmakers during this election year.
Several tenant protection bills failed to pass last year, but lawmakers acted more swiftly this time. Among bills that crossed the finish line this session: legislation staying an eviction when a tenant has applied for emergency assistance, requiring that landlords are complying with local licensing laws before they file a court action and funding a legal assistance program for tenants facing eviction.
The group Renters United Maryland really came through for tenants in 2022.
Push: Cannabis Legalization
Lawmakers laid out a loose implementation framework should Marylanders vote to legalize cannabis when they hit the polls this November, which polls suggest is likely to happen. But lawmakers and advocates say that the policy legislation isn’t equitable and leaves behind the communities most affected by the war on drugs.
Loser: Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel)
The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics this session found Reilly improperly used “the prestige of his State position” by telling a constituent he wouldn’t follow through on legislation he’d promised to work with her on after she contributed money to his Democratic challenger. Not a good look! On top of that, the new legislative district lines put Reilly’s 33rd District in play in November — and Del. Sid Saab (R) is now challenging Reilly in the GOP primary, which might prompt the veteran lawmaker to retire.
Loser: The old budget process
Next year, the legislature will have a lot more say in state spending. Who knows what kind of chaos that might create?
Winners: Future governors who like Wickr and other text-destroying apps
After The Washington Post reported on Hogan’s regular use of Wickr, an app that turns text messages into virtual dust within a pre-set time, Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) introduced measures intended to strengthen Maryland’s records-preservation practices. Neither received a vote in committee.
And there are still sweeping legislative exemptions to the Maryland Public Information Act.
Push: Transparency advocates (and the media)
The push for transparency measures resulted in a mixed bag. A task force will study how state police agencies can better comply with Anton’s Law (which was intended to free up release of police disciplinary records), but a bill that would have required local governments to mirror state registration requirements for lobbyists failed.
A bill from House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) that would have forced corporations to disclose donations to “Astroturf” advocacy organizations also died.
On the other hand, in the General Assembly, streaming of voting sessions are here to stay, and the push to continue holding hybrid sessions, even when the pandemic abates, is gaining traction — which gives the public greater access to hearings and other official proceedings.
This session, Ferguson, the Senate president, had fewer media availabilities than last year — even though last year’s were mostly held online and the Senate now has a spanking new media center for such appearances. And for all her other skills, Jones’ speaker title is something of a misnomer, since she rarely speaks to the media at all.
Winner: State Treasurer Dereck E. Davis (D)
Now that someone else is running the House Economic Matters Committee for the first time since 2003, Davis may yet come out looking like a combination of John Muir and Samuel Gompers.
Winners: Cats and upholsterers
Now that declawing is likely to be made illegal in the Free State, our feline friends are big winners — and so are the people who are paid to fix the damage these critters do to our furniture, curtains, decorative pillows, etc.