As a key deadline approaches, many of Gov. Wes Moore’s priorities are making their way through the General Assembly, although several have been altered — some significantly.
The Democratic governor’s office is calling their efforts a success, and they believe that by the time the legislature adjourns in early April, they’ll have passed more bills than recent governors did in their first year.
“Right now, all 10 of our bills are moving in some form,” said Eric Luedtke, the governor’s chief legislative officer. “There are amendments to bills. That’s the legislative process. But we’re feeling great about what we’re getting done. I don’t know of any other governor, in his first year, that’s had all of his bills alive this far into session.”
Monday is a key deadline in the annual General Assembly session known as “crossover.” Bills must win approval in either the House of Delegates or the state Senate and cross over to the other chamber in order to be guaranteed consideration in the second chamber. Most bills that don’t make the crossover deadline are generally considered to be effectively defeated.
Luedtke attributes the success to Moore’s tactics with lawmakers, including the governor testifying in person and holding regular breakfasts with groups of lawmakers at the governor’s mansion, as well as making cabinet secretaries a regular presence in committee hearings and the halls of the State House complex.
Leaders of the Republican Party — who are outnumbered in the legislature by a more than 2-to-1 margin — are less impressed.
Del. Jason Buckel of Western Maryland, the Republican leader in the House of Delegates, said some of the governor’s bills are turning out to be “a fraction of what the intent was.”
“I think that the General Assembly is in a position to say ... ‘We want to make sure that we put our imprint on some of the legislation, as well,’” said Eastern Shore Sen. Stephen Hershey, the Republican leader in the Senate. “So I think we’ll see a number of his bills come out, but I think they’re going to be dramatically different than the way that they were introduced.”
Here’s a look at where some of the governor’s key bills stood as of Thursday afternoon, with four days until the crossover deadline and 25 days until lawmakers adjourn “sine die” and close the books on lawmaking for the year.
Family Prosperity Act
This bill adjusts two tax credits that help low-income workers, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. The tax credits are a key part of Moore’s promise to end child poverty in the state, along with increasing the minimum wage.
The Earned Income Tax Credit was temporarily made more generous in Maryland during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and lawmakers already were interested in making the change permanent. The Child Tax Credit, meanwhile, has such narrow eligibility that few Marylanders were able to use it, so it’s being expanded to help more families.
The Family Prosperity Act is advancing relatively unscathed and even picked up a couple Republican votes when it was approved by the House of Delegates, Luedtke said. The bill hasn’t yet advanced in the Senate, but it’s not expected to run into trouble there.
Keep Our Heroes Home Act
Military retirees already don’t have to pay income tax on a portion of their military retirement income. This bill, as introduced, would increase that amount to the first $25,000 of military retirement income for those younger than 55 and the first $40,000 for those 55 and older.
Moore picked this bill as the first one he would testify on in person before lawmakers, something the prior governor, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, never did in eight years.
In the House of Delegates, lawmakers scaled back the tax-free amount to the first $12,500 for those younger than 55 and the first $20,000 for those 55 and older. That bill sailed through the House with no opposition.
The measure hasn’t yet advanced in the state Senate.
This proposal would set up Moore’s program to offer young adults a year of paid service work in the community, in partnership with private organizations.
The House of Delegates passed one version of the bill and a different version is moving through the state Senate.
Both versions have the end result of merging Moore’s “service year option” with an existing program called Maryland Corps under the new state Department of Service and Civic Innovation.
The program is targeted to have 200 young people participating in the first year, with 2,000 participants by the fourth year, working in areas of climate change, education, health and government.
There are differences in the two versions of the bill — the Senate bill also spells out details of how the Department of Service and Civic Innovation will operate — and those differences are expected to be worked out in the final weeks of the legislative session.
Fair Wage Act
This is Moore’s proposal to accelerate planned increases to the state’s minimum wage. As proposed, Moore wanted to bump the minimum wage to $15 on Oct. 1 and make future increases automatic each year based on inflation.
As moving forward in the Senate, the wage would jump to $15 on Jan. 1 and the automatic increases are eliminated.
The House of Delegates hasn’t yet advanced the bill, but delegates have also expressed interest in nixing the automatic increases.
The current minimum wage is $13.25 for employers with more than 15 workers and $12.80 for smaller employers. They were scheduled to go to $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2025 for larger employers and on July 1, 2026 for the smaller employers.
Health Care for Heroes Act
This proposal would have the state pay for the cost of health insurance for members of the Maryland National Guard and their families who are in the government TRICARE insurance program. The governor put $5 million in his proposed budget to pay for it.
The Senate is close to passing a version of the bill that limits eligibility and caps the benefit at $60 per month. The House of Delegates has not yet acted on the bill.
Broadband Expansion Incentive Act
As introduced by the governor, this bill would have exempted the purchase of certain network equipment from the sales tax and ended the practice of taxing the money received from federal broadband internet grants.
The House of Delegates turned the bill into a study about how to expand broadband internet access and gave it the less-exciting title, “Office of Statewide Broadband — Study of Broadband Expansion Incentives.” The revised bill passed the House easily. The Senate has yet to act.
Maryland Educator Shortage Act
The original version of this bill addresses teacher recruitment and retention issues in a variety of ways.
The bill was changed up as it went through the Maryland House of Delegates. Luedtke said that the core principles of the bill remained intact, including a measure to provide financial support to some college students when they are doing student teaching.
“That will be tremendous for not only getting new people into the profession, but getting a more socioeconomically diverse group of people to go into teaching,” he said. “You’re going to school full-time, you’re working full-time in a lot of cases to pay for school, and then on top of that, you’re going to do an unpaid student teaching experience. It’s ridiculous.”
The bill has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.