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Crossover Day Chaos

Today is crossover day in the Maryland General Assembly, the day that bills must pass out of one chamber and be sent to the other for the greatest chance to be turned into a law. Normally, it is a deadline to force committees to move on legislation in order to provide enough time for bills to be heard. However, it often leads to some chaos.

Collapse of the Environment and Transportation Committee

Novice chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee, Delegate Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery 17), suffered a disastrous setback in his committee earlier today when the committee rejected his plan to radically transform one bill into a completely different bill.

The original proposal, HB 1394, which would have removed the Governor’s ability to lower tolls unilaterally, was gutted by Del. Barve’s amendment. In its place, the new bill would increase the fee for specialty license plates from $50 to 75$ per year in return for removing fees associated with veteran specialty plates. One proposal that would remove the powers of the Governor was transformed into a new proposal that would require Republicans to chose between supporting  veterans or opposing tax increases.

It is unclear where the language originated. The amendment was proposed by the”Environment and Transportation Committee,” which means it was offered in the chairman’s name. However, the language did not come from another bill, and the appearance of the language and using it to replacement a completely different bill surprised many.

It was possible that the sudden nature of the amendment led to its failure. Delegate Anthony O’Donnell (R-Calvert and St. Mary’s 29C) objected to the amendment and proposed to the committee that the fee increases be struck but the benefits to veterans remain. Both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agreed to the change, which caused the chairman great strain. When reached for comment, Delegate O’Donnell said that the amendment was a “cynical plot” and a “cheap attempt,” and the Democrats on the committee “didn’t think it was appropriate.”

In response to losing his proposed fee increase, Del. Barve had the committee vote the bill down. No official vote would be produced by the Environment and Transportation Committee, and the bill was not mentioned on the committee’s Report No. 16, which was heard this evening. It is also unclear how Delegate Sheila Hixon (D-Montgomery 20), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, feels after her original proposal was radically transformed and then killed.

As of now, the official status of the bill is unclear. Besides the original bill and the proposed amendment, there are no documents that describe what took place today. However, it was the talk of the House of Delegates. After all, it is a rare occurrence when a Democrat controlled committee turns against a Democratic chairman on an issue that, for all intents and purposes, would be used to make the Democrats look good and the Republicans look bad.

Status of Other Legislation

HB 1252 would rewrite how the corporate income tax is collected in the state. Although the fiscal note states that it would be revenue neutral (implying no increases in taxes), farmers and agricultural businesses are greatly worried over the potential for major tax increases. The fiscal note goes on to say “industries in agriculture, retail trade, and other services would have the largest percentage increases in tax liability,” which places the bill among dozens of anti-agricultural proposals this year. Currently, the bill is up for third reader.

A bill that would devastate the watermen, SB 937, has currently been “laid over” and is effectively dead. The legislation, proposed by Senator Roger Manno (D-Montgomery 19) would severely limit the harvesting of oysters in the bay. The bill made it through Second Reader today and could possibly come up for a vote tonight. However, being laid over means “Floor action on an amended bill is postponed for one  legislative day,” which could possibly delay any movement until tomorrow, after the crossover deadline.

One of the universal voter act proposals, HB 1007, made it through Second Reader and passed tonight 94-42. The legislation could possibly lead to the registering of illegal immigrants to vote. Critics of the bill also point out that it would substantially burden local Boards of Elections and cause confusion. No other proposal has made it out of committee in the Senate.

One of the more interesting proposals this year, HB 50, would have added law enforcement and first responders to the list of protected classes under Maryland’s hate crime statute. Many came out in support of the legislation, including local FOP the MD State Firemen’s Association because it would provide additional protections to equipment, property, and other essential items while toughening protections of the law enforcement and first responders themselves. With the recent increase in violence against law enforcement agents, there is a national movement on the issue. The bill did not move out of committee and is effectively dead this year.

A few good bills passed before the crossover day deadline. The Senate passed SB 840, which would lower income taxes for most Marylanders. The House passed HB 1363, which would provide necessary information to aid in appealing property tax assessments,and HB 1411, which would cut down on potential fraud among recovery residences.

A more thorough update on which legislation is moving through the House and the Senate will be provided on Wednesday. With only a few weeks left, the rush is now on for bill sponsors to jump through the last remaining hurdles if they want their legislation to pass. That means there will be a higher chance for incidents like what took place in the Environment and Transportation Committee to happen again.

 






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