Laslo Boyd: Looking back at the 2010 General Assembly

Posted by admin on April 16, 2010  |   Comments Off on Laslo Boyd: Looking back at the 2010 General Assembly

The clock struck midnight and after the dust had settled, 808 bills had worked their way through both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. While there will be lots of thorough and systematic reviews of the session, what you’ll get out of this column are a few of my observations and the results of my interviews the next day with Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch.

A bit of context setting is important. The state is facing major financial problems as a result of the national downturn in the economy. The dominant issue for the session was balancing the state budget, which this year meant making significant cuts while trying to not damage key priorities. The other external factor impacting the session was this year’s elections, with Republican Bob Ehrlich looming on the horizon.

While there were some significant differences between the two chambers, Miller and Busch seemed, on the whole, pleased with the manner in which the budget had been handled. Key areas of agreement included the full funding of education, the continued constraints on tuition increases, money for the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, a number of health care bills and a key unemployment benefits initiative that will lead to Maryland receiving an additional $29 million from the federal government.

Both presiding officers were quick to share credit for successes. Speaker Busch, for example, cited House Judiciary Chair Joe Vallario for negotiating the final bill on sexual predators that had generated so much controversy during the session and that passed on the final day. Similarly, he noted the “great job” that Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh has done in getting the various parties to agree on a stormwater management bill.

Miller talked about how Democrats and Republicans worked together in the Senate, citing both the budget and a bill on teacher pensions. That bill passed the Senate, but did not receive approval in the House. The issue definitely will come back next year as the result of the establishment of a seven-member study commission to try to resolve the differences that currently exist on the proposal.

Busch mentioned the failure to pass that bill, as well as the one that would have required ignition interlocks for people convicted of drunk driving, as among his frustrations of the session. Miller’s list included the pension bill, the proposal to provide tax breaks for corporations that contributed to religious schools and the Rosecroft table game bill as his major disappointments.

The upcoming election was clearly on both of their minds and was reflected in their observations about the session. Miller pointed out that the final budget “emphasized what the governor is all about.” Busch pointed to the difficult decisions that the legislature had to make and wondered whether the public would appreciate what had been accomplished rather than take it for granted.

Other issues, some of which attracted a lot of public attention, were not mentioned in our discussions. For example, the new law that Marylanders are most likely to notice is the one requiring hands-free devices when driving and using a cell phone. At this point, it’s a secondary offense, which means that you can’t be pulled over just for talking on a cell phone. But if other states are any guide, the next step will be to make it a primary offense.

A series of educational reforms passed with the intent of making Maryland more competitive in its efforts to get federal “Race to the Top” funding. Maryland did not submit an application in the first round and how enthusiastic state education officials are about this effort is still far from clear.

Earlier this year, I wrote about a bill that had barely failed in the previous two sessions that would put new rules and reporting requirements on the scrap metal industry. As one legislator who had been involved in the prior effort told me after the bill was approved this year on the final day, “I’m no longer a cynic.”

I have, in prior years, given an award for the worst bill of the session. This year, the runaway winner is Del. Don Dwyer of Anne Arundel County for his ridiculous effort to institute impeachment proceedings against Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. Dwyer, who apparently doesn’t have enough real legislative work to do, decided that because he didn’t personally agree with an opinion of the attorney general, that the difference of opinion constituted grounds for impeachment. I wonder if Dwyer will cite that effort to his constituents as one of his proudest accomplishments in this session.

Finally, let me bring to your attention SB 26. Under the Maryland Constitution, the General Assembly is obligated every 20 years to give voters the opportunity to decide whether they want to have a constitutional convention to either amend or rewrite the state’s constitution. SB 26 places that question on the November ballot this year and gives you the chance to think about something other the candidates for office.

Laslo Boyd is a partner at Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies. He also teaches courses at both Towson University and the University of Baltimore. His e-mail address is lvboyd@gmail.com.

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