For the third consecutive year, the General Assembly will conduct proceedings under the shadow of the COVID-19. The pandemic not only impacts the way legislators conduct their business and interact with the public, but it also shapes the policy and measures under consideration with the lawmakers. During the 2022 session, legislators and Governor Hogan will also assess how to spend a multi-billion dollar budget surplus. Prior to the commencement of the 2022 Maryland General Assembly Session, The Daily Record hosted its annual Eye on Annapolis Summit. The MSBA acted as the presenting sponsor of the event, and the AARP acted as the advocacy sponsor.
MSBA President M. Natalie McSherry spoke about the MSBA’s role in shaping legislation and public policy in Annapolis. The MSBA draws on the vast legal expertise of Maryland’s largest bar association to advocate on behalf of the legal profession. The MSBA’s membership advocates in a variety of ways, including filing friend of the court briefs, meeting with state officials, and testifying before state legislative committees, with the goal of obtaining the best possible outcome for Maryland lawyers and the clients they represent. The MSBA also partners with the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to help overcome barriers that prevent some Marylanders from having equal access to the civil justice system.
Following the opening remarks, The Daily Record’s Government Affairs reporter, Bryan Sears, interviewed Governor Larry Hogan. The current legislative session is the last during Governor Hogan’s tenure. It is anticipated that the General Assembly and Governor Hogan will contend with weighty issues during the session, including climate change, legalization of recreational marijuana, legislative redistricting, and tax cuts.
Governor Hogan, who fully recovered from a recent bout of COVID, noted the pandemic has consumed his administration for over two years. He believes that Maryland handled testing better than any other state in the country, and the recent surge in positive cases is leveling off. Governor Hogan briefly touched on his political future, stating he has no desire to be a United States Senator.
Governor Hogan recently introduced what he characterizes as the largest tax relief bill in the history of the State, in which he essentially seeks to eliminate all income tax for retirees over the age of 65. The details of the budget are slated to come out next week, and the tax cuts will be phased in over the next five to six years. He urged the legislature to consider additional tax cuts in the upcoming session. While he stated that the tax cuts would not have been possible absent the surplus, he does not believe the tax cuts are premature.
Governor Hogan discussed the crime bills seeking increased penalties for violent offenders and enhanced judicial transparency as well, stating it would be outrageous for the legislature not to act on them, as violent crime is out of control. He believes the bills are widely supported. He disagreed that there are not enough probation and parole offices; instead, he thinks there are far too many people on probation and parole, in part due to lenient sentencing practices, which is one of the reasons he is pushing for judicial transparency.
Sears then spoke with House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson. Regarding Governor Hogan’s recently proposed tax cuts, Delegate Jones stated that she would need to see all of the details to determine if they are feasible. Senator Ferguson similarly stated that while Maryland currently has a substantial surplus of funds, they must make sure it is not spent in a way that will negatively impact the state going forward. Delegate Jones would like to see the budget surplus to be put to use to help Marylanders who need it the most. She stated it could be used to improve neglected bridges, schools, and buildings, and believes the money should be put towards critical upgrades rather than creating a new long-term spending priority. Senator Ferguson agreed and noted that there is an enormous opportunity for investing in the state’s workforce as well.
The conversation touched on the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana as well, with Senator Ferguson noting that it is a complicated issue but they are confident that they can come to an effective solution. Delegate Jones is in favor of a referendum on the issue, with an implementation plan to come later. Senator Ferguson and Delegate Jones agreed that if recreational adult marijuana use is legalized, it will be important to strive for equity with regard to the licensing process and marijuana-based convictions.
Regarding redistricting, Senator Ferguson believes the committee developed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission is fair and demonstrates changes in population and shifts in population. Delegate Jones agreed, stating that the map drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission complies with the Voting Rights Act.
Click here to follow the legislative process throughout the 2022 Maryland General Assembly session.