The Maryland General Assembly ended its session Monday approving a plethora of bills on items such as sports betting, a two-year state plan to handle the coronavirus pandemic and prohibiting local government agencies from building immigration detention centers.
The session, which began Monday after noon in the Senate and 1 p.m. in the House, ended the 90-day Assembly without any community spread of the coronavirus.
“It has been a heck of a year,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).
Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones pushed a police reform package as one of the most impactful pieces of legislation in Annapolis in the past five decades.
New police measures feature a new statewide use-of-force standard, enhanced public access to review certain misconduct police records and a new disciplinary process that includes civilian committees to offer disciplinary recommendations for officers.
Lawmakers hailed it as a major victory to repeal the controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights statute established in 1974. Maryland served as the first state in the nation to implement the law.
A statement from the Maryland Justice Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability praised to make wrongdoing of police records public and allow Baltimore City to control its police department currently a state agency.
The coalition, composed of advocates, loved ones of those affected by police brutality and other residents, issued a statement Monday morning saying that parts of the police legislation “miss the mark.”
“The coalition is grateful for the progress that was made. We know that the work is not done and this session, more than ever, we were reminded of the power of the people to demand what is right,” the statement said. “We will continue to fight in and with communities to shift power into the hands of those who are over-policed and abusively policed.”
Lawmakers needed Monday night to approve a sports betting bill that will now head to the governor’s desk for a possible signature. If Gov. Larry Hogan approves the measure, it could be in effect as early as the NFL season this fall.
Voters approved in the November election in support of sports betting with some money designated to pay for public education.
Additional State Legislation
The majority-Democrat legislature and the Republican governor did agree on the more than $1 billion RELIEF Act. It marked the first bill lawmakers approved this year and Hogan signed into law to provide tax relief for small businesses, support for nonprofit organizations and stimulus checks for low-income residents.
The legislative and executive branches also agreed to end a more than 14-year-old lawsuit and provide $577 million for the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities.
“I think it was a terrific session. I want to thank legislative leaders and legislators on both sides of the aisle for their hard work over the past 90 days,” Hogan said during a press briefing Monday afternoon outside the governor’s mansion. “I would say this was by far our best legislative session ever in seven years.”
However, Hogan plans to veto an immigration bill he said creates “a sanctuary city.”
Lawmakers approved for local government agencies to forbid entering contractual agreements with ICE to build detention centers and detain immigrant residents that exceed federal law.
Del. Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll County) voted against the immigration bill and disagreed with Hogan on bipartisan work done during this year’s session.
“I had an emergency tooth root canal this morning. That was more pleasant than many of the bills I’ve seen this session,” he said in the House annex across the street inside the House of Delegate buildings to maintain social distancing among the 141 members. “When we take office, we take a solemn oath to uphold the law. You can’t pick and choose what laws you like.”
Also approved on the last day of the session was providing additional protection for essential workers during future emergencies such as coronavirus pandemic.
The bill sponsored in the House by Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville would require employers to provide personal protective equipment and 14 days of paid health leave.
Essential workers who can’t work from home include those in public safety, health care and grocery store personnel.
“It lays out a basic framework if we find ourselves in some sort of pandemic or [similar situation], there are protections that will be there for workers and businesses,” he said. “These were uncharted territories … and now these workers have protections if a situation rises again.”