ANNAPOLIS — State Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mary Beth Carozza helped kick off the 436th session of the Maryland General Assembly earlier this week, and while each have their own items and initiatives to push forward, the session will likely be dominated by debates surrounding the budget and police and criminal justice reforms.
A law enforcement reform workgroup formed last year after the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody in Baltimore, has given more than 20 recommendations to the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Perhaps the most controversial of those recommendations is one that aims to cut the “10-day rule” to five days. Currently, under Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, officers have up to 10 days before they must speak with investigators in cases where they may have committed a crime. That proposal has been met with harsh criticism for the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.
Yet, while lawmakers will likely consider and vehemently debate those proposals, they’ll also be facing pressure from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who wants to enact $480 million in tax relief over the next several years.
Carozza, a Republican who also sits on the House Appropriations Committee, attended Hogan’s press conference the day before the session convened when he rolled out the details of his tax relief plan focusing on retirees, working families and small businesses.
“Governor Hogan campaigned on promises to lower as many taxes and fees in Maryland as possible to make Maryland a business friendly state again and to help long-struggling communities throughout the state”, said Carozza. “This proposal is good for the shore and all of Maryland.”
Hogan’s noted that more than 80% of spending in the state budget can’t be touched. He said that must be changed.
“It’s the reason why our state government has refused to live within its means,” said Hogan. “It’s the reason we’re so far in debt and it’s the reason why our economy had been struggling for so long — because of automatic mandated spending increases passed by the legislature.”
Carozza expects her second session in Annapolis to be a “very intense 90-day session” and hopes to push forward the initiatives that most benefit the folks here on the shore.
“I will take with me that feedback I received from various constituents I met with before the session, from the Sheriff’s Office to local tourism officials in Ocean City,” she said. “Whether it’s a legislative initiative, fighting regulation that might be harmful to our groups or trying to work things through the House Appropriations Committee, I will work hard for the people on the shore.”
One item that Carozza says she’s excited to work on is a possible state version of the federally passed ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act, which President Obama signed in 2014.
The legislation allows people with disabilities to open tax free savings accounts where they can amass more than $2,000 without losing government benefits. Carozza was one of the lead sponsors last year that set up a taskforce to study how to apply the ABLE Act in Maryland.
“The focus of the taskforce was to get it ready to introduce it this session,” said Carozza, “I’m very excited about this but there is a process before we can pull the trigger on some of these programs, and there’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes on behind the scenes for something like that to move forward. We are going to model it after the college savings set up.”
Meanwhile, Mathias has been busy pre-filing three bills before Tuesday’s session opening. The one that has received the most attention is SB 0056, which would push for a feasibility study on adding a third span to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
“We all know that the Eastern Shore is an extremely desirable place to visit, live, and work,” said Mathias. “We are dependent upon that bridge to go back and forth and as the world continues to evolve, we need to make sure that third bay span crossing is on the table and we solidify the delegation with bipartisan support for the span. “
Mathias’ quest to get the ball rolling on the construction of a third span dates back to his days as mayor of Ocean City when he was appointed by then governor Robert Ehrlich to look into options for a new bridge, and when he was a state delegate and co-sponsored a number of study bills for the span, all of which never materialized.
“We all know that the most important part of success is planning and now is the time to set aside the money,” said Mathias.
Mathias also noted that he will move forward with introducing legislation that would give Worcester County a Class A designation for liquor, which would create carryout package stores, and essentially be a way for the county to offload the alleged $4.5 million in booze inventory while slowly exiting from the liquor business entirely.
“I made a promise in 2010 to get the job done, and this is the next step,
said Mathias. “We ended the monopoly a year before we said we would, and now the County Commissioners want to get out of the liquor business entirely. There are phases to this, but we are nearing the end.”