Del. Shane Pendergrass (left) and Del. Joseline Peńa-Melnyk embrace a few minutes after midnight on April 12 outside the House of Delegates chamber after the Maryland General Assembly completed its annual 90-day legislative session. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Del. Shane Pendergrass (left) and Del. Joseline Peńa-Melnyk embrace a few minutes after midnight on April 12 outside the House of Delegates chamber after the Maryland General Assembly completed its annual 90-day legislative session. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly completed its 90-day session at midnight on Tuesday, April 12 passing a comprehensive package to combat climate change, to provide statewide paid family and medical leave and to allow voters to decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

With billions of dollars in savings, lawmakers approved a $58.5 billion fiscal year 2023 budget. In addition, nearly $2 billion in tax relief for seniors and incentives for local businesses.

“It’s been a historic session,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during a press briefing Monday at the Senate floor. “When you look across the board, I am so incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done.”

Similar to Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) led her chamber for a third straight year in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The one difference between the two: Jones, a Black woman, leads a larger group of lawmakers where she occasionally bangs her gavel and speaks with a firm voice to restore order.

Jones became the state’s first African American and first woman elected as House speaker and the third African-American woman to serve as a presiding officer in a state legislature in the nation behind Rep. Karen Bass (D-California), and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

“People will scrutinize you, or label you, or try to put you in a category [to say] ‘that’s how they are.’ There has to be an adult in the house,” Jones said in an interview April 8. “I just try to look to serve and lead the House of Delegates. We can’t lose sight of the people we are representing and try to make a difference.”

More important, Jones said the goal of passing this year’s legislative priorities for Marylanders “was to make sure no one was left behind. Whatever what was important to you, we covered.”

Included among the more than 2,000 bills approved before the last day known as “Sine Die,” Latin for “without day:” 

  • Raise the minimum age for marriage in the state from 15 to 17. It would prohibit 17-year-olds from marrying a person more than four years older.
  • Besides physicians, expand access to abortion that would allow nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistant with training to perform them.
  • Approved to borrow $1.2 billion to upgrade the state-owned stadiums of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens.

County School Board to Return to All-Elected 

One law approved focuses on the Prince George’s County school board to make it an all-elected body. The legislation requires a 13-member work group to assess several components which include: composition; qualifications and compensation of board members; methods to select the board; analysis of gender and racial diversity within the county; and protocol for board audits and how to address those findings.

A parent with a child enrolled in the county public schools, a public school student and a member of the school would be part of the group.

The board operates in a hybrid structure with nine elected members, four appointed and a student member from the high school.

A report would be prepared by October 2023 with the goal to have a fully-elected board by 2024.

Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III led to organize the current set up as a way for local government to become more involved in the school system. Since state lawmakers approved a bill in 2013, the county executive appoints three members and County Council chooses one person.

The school board has been an all-elected body before but community leaders, education advocates and now government officials see a school board with constant infighting and public discourse.

“We don’t want to go straight into implementing a new board without addressing those issues,” said Del. Joseline Peńa-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park, who sponsored the legislation. “We will have a committee to take the time and study these issues. We must do better.”

Another Prince George’s County bill that heads to the governor’s desk for signature seeks to change the name of Route 210, also known as Indian Head Highway in the southern part of the county, to Piscataway Highway in honor of the Piscataway Native American tribe.

The nearly 20-mile highway from Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County at the D.C. border through Charles County has been labeled by law enforcement officials as the most dangerous road in Maryland.

Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) of Fort Washington sponsored the legislation with discussions to name the highway after the late Thurgood Marshall and former President Barack Obama. But a decision would be made to honor the Piscataway tribe from Southern Maryland.

“We heard from the community to take the name of Indian Head Highway and turn it into a positive,” he said a few minutes after confetti and balloons dropped from the balcony to the House floor. “We almost had 11,000 petitions. I’m glad we got it done.”

Walker, 50, does not plan to seek reelection and will continue his career as a sports commentator for college football. He will begin his sports work on college baseball this month.

Marylanders may also see him on the campaign trail alongside his wife, former Prince George’s County Council member Monique Anderson-Walker, who’s the running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Meanwhile, one of Walker’s signature pieces of legislation that did not pass deals with the state Board of Education incorporating a half-credit course on financial literacy for high school students.

The bill passed unanimously in the House but didn’t make it out of the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“That’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s what the people wanted.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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