Maryland lawmakers considered 2,275 bills and nine resolutions over the course of 90 days, ranging from minor tweaks to government programs to major policy changes that will increase the minimum wage, create a new legal marijuana industry, restrict gun rights and protect access to abortion.
Members of the Maryland General Assembly also passed a $63 billion budget that will guide state spending for the next year, and gave Gov. Wes Moore most — but not everything — he asked for.
As the dust settles on the annual lawmaking process, here are key measures that won approval and will be headed to the Democratic governor’s desk for consideration. He’ll have until May 30 to veto the bills, sign them into law or allow them to become law without his signature.
On Jan. 1, Maryland’s minimum wage will be $15 per hour, after lawmakers approved a revised proposal from the new Democratic governor. That’s an increase from the current minimum wage of $13.25 per hour for employers with at least 15 workers and $12.80 at smaller organizations.
The governor sought to have future increases take place automatically each year based on inflation, but lawmakers nixed that part of his proposal. Future minimum wage increases would continue to need a vote from the General Assembly.
Maryland lawmakers have passed three bills that include several provisions restricting the use of guns.
In response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to an uptick in applications for concealed carry permits, known in Maryland as wear and carry permits, lawmakers advanced bills that increase training and fees to apply for the permits, limit who can apply for them and restrict where permit holders can carry their guns using their permits.
The final passage didn’t come quickly. The House of Delegates spent more than two hours debating one of the bills on Monday afternoon, followed by extended debate in the Senate later that night. Republicans chafed at the restrictions on where permitted owners could carry their handguns, saying that the legislation will prevent people from protecting themselves while trampling on their Second Amendment rights.
They also passed Jaelynn’s Law, which makes it a crime to leave a gun where a minor younger than 18 can access it, a change from the under 16 restriction currently law. It also changes penalties, including temporarily banning violators from obtaining wear and carry permits. The bill is named for Jaelynn Willey, who was killed in 2018 by a 17-year-old classmate at Great Mills High School who used his father’s gun, authorities said.
Legal cannabis industry
Lawmakers decided on how to tax and license recreational cannabis sales on the Saturday before sine die. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.
Consumers will be able to purchase recreational cannabis at licensed dispensaries on July 1 and will be charged a 9% sales tax. The medical product that has been sold in the state for years will remain tax free. The bill requires dispensaries to keep an ample medical cannabis supply on hand and ease access for medical buyers with express lanes or exclusive shopping hours.
After the state pays the operating costs of regulating the new industry, 35% of the tax revenues will go to communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and prosecutions.
The state will begin issuing licenses for new cannabis businesses on Jan. 1.
The Maryland Department of Human Services will now be required to restore stolen food and cash benefits.
The emergency bill, which covers thefts back to Jan. 1, 2021, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and the governor is likely to sign it.
Human services opened the program on March 18 and began reimbursing stolen Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits using federal dollars, a program made possible by a December law passed by Congress. As of Friday morning, 3,748 claims totaling $2,463,761 have been approved, according to the department.
Reimbursable SNAP, and Temporary Cash Assistance funds are distributed on the same type of card, called an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. Should the measure become law, the state will also examine ways to make the cards more secure.
Michelle Salomon Madaio, a director at the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said she has had clients breakdown in tears of relief when they they hear that lawmakers “have listened and heard the horrors and experiences folks have gone through and responded.”
Reproductive health care
Maryland continues to protect and expand access to reproductive health care, including abortions, with a set of bills passed this year in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that struck down Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion nationally.
State law already guarantees the right to reproductive choice in Maryland, and voters will have the opportunity to enshrine that right in the state’s constitution in the 2024 general election, under a bill passed by lawmakers.
Another bill that passed requires public colleges and universities to provide emergency contraception on campus and create a plan for student access to reproductive health care.
Other bills that passed strengthen privacy protections for digital medical records regarding reproductive care and protecting people in Maryland from having to testify or face legal consequences in other states related to providing abortion care here.
Using new budget powers, lawmakers socked away $900 million for future years of planned spending on an ambitious and expensive public school improvement plan known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. That’s on top of the regular annual spending on public schools.
The Blueprint plan, approved by lawmakers in 2020, seeks to shore up gaps in the public school system. The elements of the plan cut across the school system, including establishing community schools in high-poverty neighborhoods that address student and family needs, improving career- and college-prep programs and improving teacher training and pay.
The state government has enough money for the scheduled Blueprint programs for the next few years, but money is expected to eventually run short. Setting aside extra money now will buy lawmakers time to figure out a long-term funding plan.
The governor put $500 million extra for future years of the Blueprint plan in his initial budget proposal, which lawmakers increased to $900 million by moving money around within the budget.
Lawsuits for child sexual abuse
The governor has promised to sign a bill into law that removes barriers that kept many survivors of child sexual abuse from suing institutions, such as churches and schools, that employed or supervised abusers.
The legislation, known as the Child Victims Act, was a hard-fought, multiyear battle that became all the more important for lawmakers as a report on decades of abuse within the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore was made public in the final days of the session.
There are questions as to whether the law will survive legal challenges, but supporters hope that it gives abuse survivors the chance to name their abusers in court, and possibly recover damages for the harm inflicted on them.
Attorney general’s powers
Lawmakers continued a trend of giving more power to the Office of the Attorney General, currently headed by Democratic Attorney General Anthony Brown.
Laws passed this year give Brown’s office the responsibility of prosecuting police officers in cases where people are killed or suffer injuries likely to result in death — a responsibility that’s currently held by local state’s attorneys.
Lawmakers did not pass a bill that would have allowed the attorney general to sue the firearms industry for their role in gun deaths in Maryland.
Lawmakers also addressed challenges from the last few elections, when a pandemic-inspired increase in voters casting mail ballots led to slow tallies and a long wait for results.
Going forward, local elections boards would be allowed to open and prepare mailed ballots that arrive ahead of Election Day, and then they can start tallying on Election Day, with no results released until after the polls close. The goal is to get preliminary results out to the public sooner.
The bill passed by lawmakers also moves the 2024 primary election to May 14 so it does not conflict with Passover or Ramadan.
Health care for trans Marylanders
The Trans Health Equity Act will expand the types of gender-affirming care available to Marylanders who have health insurance through the government Medicaid program.
Some gender-affirming care is currently covered by Maryland Medicaid. But dozens of procedures — everything from laser hair removal, to voice therapy to more invasive surgeries — are not.
In 2022, 98 people sought gender-affirming care under Medicaid and it’s estimated that an additional 25 individuals would seek such care under the expansion. Though the number of affected patients is small, advocates for LGBTQ Marylanders hailed the legislation as an important step forward for transgender individuals.
Testing for fentanyl
The Josh Siems Act will require hospitals to test patients for fentanyl when they are running toxicology screens. The standard toxicology test does not include fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that’s contributing to an increasing number of overdoses and deaths.
Some people knowingly use fentanyl, while others unwittingly take the drug when it’s cut into other substances such as heroin and cocaine. Supporters say increased testing will help authorities get a better handle on the extent of fentanyl use and potentially flag for users that their supply is tainted with fentanyl.
The legislation is named for Siems, a Baltimore native who died from an overdose on his 31st birthday last fall. His loved ones were shocked that fentanyl didn’t show up in his medical records, even though there was evidence that he’d been using it before his death.
Maryland 529 plan reforms
The Maryland 529 college savings program has been under fire since it distributed, and then took back, money from thousands of account holders last year.
Lawmakers passed legislation to move the program into the office of state Treasurer Dereck Davis and phase out its prepaid college tuition plan.
The bill also authorizes the state treasurer to set up a claims process to pay back account holders in the prepaid trust program who lost money last year.
Baltimore’s water and sewer system
A task force will be created to study the structure and operations of the Baltimore region’s water and sewer system, which has been beset by problems including inaccurate billing, tainted drinking water and a sewage treatment plant that has been penalized for discharging too much pollution and then suffered an explosion last month.
The water and sewer system serves about 1.8 million residential and commercial customers, primarily in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The bill to create the task force was a priority of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. The task force’s recommendations will be due next January.
Predatory real estate contracts
The Baltimore Banner reported last year that some real estate firms were asking homeowners to sign contracts committing to exclusive listing rights for many years, in exchange for a small sum of money. Some homeowners locked into these contracts didn’t understand them and ran into difficulty getting out of them.
Lawmakers passed a bill that limits such contracts to one year.
Charlotte Hall Veterans Home oversight
After the Moore administration revealed ongoing problems of abuse and neglect at the state-owned, contractor-run Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, lawmakers were frustrated that they hadn’t known.
They passed a bill that would require contractors who run state nursing homes to report citations and fines levied by inspectors to lawmakers and the governor within 30 days. The bill was filed late in the legislative session, but leaders made it a high priority and smoothed its path through the process.
New FBI headquarters
Maryland and Virginia have been competing to land a new headquarters for the FBI, with Maryland offering possible locations in Greenbelt and Landover.
Clean energy and the environment
Maryland lawmakers again focused on combating climate change and improving the health of the environment.
One of the final bills to receive full passage, the Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources or “POWER” Act, establishes a non-binding state goal of producing 8.5 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind turbines by 2031.
The bill also requires the state to work with the regional PJM Interconnection power grid on building a transmission line to help funnel the electricity from the Atlantic Ocean to homes and businesses.
Another bill that passed makes permanent a pilot program that allowed for homeowners to join together to participate in community solar power projects, supporting clean energy and reducing electric bills.
Lawmakers also updated the state’s Forest Conservation Act for the first time in more than 30 years. The old law set a standard of no net loss of forests in the state; the update will set a statewide gain as the goal.
“Collectively speaking, the 2023 legislative session environmental achievements are extremely significant for Maryland’s air, land, water and communities,” said Kim Coble, director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, in a statement.