This story was corrected on April 13, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
The Maryland General Assembly went out with a whimper Monday, capping off what observers say was one of the busiest, most unpredictable sessions in recent memory.
Lawmakers adjourned Sine Die without passing a tax plan to balance the state’s $36 billion budget.
The failure to approve a tax package, which budget leaders blessed around 8 p.m., triggers a so-called doomsday budget, which includes $512 million in cuts to education, libraries, public safety and numerous other programs across the state.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said he will not call a special session without assurance that there won’t be another stalemate.
Given the ambiguous ending, many political insiders don’t fit nicely into a winning or losing category this session. For example, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) gets notches for ushering through legislation to create a health benefit exchange and health enterprise zones in the state, but his public-private partnerships bill died on the last day of session after failing to get a final vote.
Gazette staff consulted with insiders and observers to develop this year’s list.
Of course in this topsy-turvy edition of the legislature, some winners and losers could change their standing in an instant, if a special session were convened.
WINNERSSen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park — For a second year in a row, the constitutional law professor gave an impassioned defense of same-sex marriage on the Senate floor. The bill passed both chambers this time and was signed by the governor midsession. He was also the lead sponsor, with Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore in the House, on legislation that reduced the penalty for being caught with small quantities of marijuana and a bill requiring that ethics disclosure forms filed by lawmakers be posted online. Raskin also took the lead on the state’s ratification of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, codifying the direct election of Maryland’s U.S. senators.
Same-sex marriage supporters — The second time was the charm. With the vocal support of O’Malley, who sponsored the bill this year, and ‘yay’ votes from Republican Dels. A. Wade Kach (Dist. 5B) of Cockeysville and Robert Costa (Dist. 33B) of Deale, the Civil Marriage Protection Act narrowly passed both the House and Senate, making Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Delegates including Clippinger worked to drum up support for the measure in the House, where the bill failed in 2011. Opponents are gathering signatures to put the measure on the ballot in November, but advocates are hoping to win support at the polls by simply sharing their stories with as many people as possible.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer — The Howard County senator came out of his shell this session after taking over as chairman of the powerful Budget & Taxation Committee after Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) of District Heights stepped down amid a federal corruption investigation.
Kasemeyer was front and center during budget negotiations and kept matters moving by introducing compromises, which Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach afforded him the space to do.
Not known for being talkative, Kasemeyer also deferred to other members of the committee, such as Sens. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington and Roger Manno (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring, who argued in favor of the Senate’s income tax plan in committee and on the floor.
Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring — Two of the Montgomery County lawmaker’s key initiatives were passed in the final days — and even minutes — of the session. On Saturday, Maryland became the first state in the nation to ban arsenic additives in chicken feed, a move intended to keep the carcinogen — found in some drugs given to chickens — out of both the food supply and the watershed. On Monday, minutes before adjournment, the Senate approved a bill requiring local jurisdictions to tighten stormwater management regulations.
David Cordish — The developer of the Maryland Live! casino, which is due to open with 4,750 slots machines in Arundel Mills in June, was a vocal opponent of plans to build a $1 billion casino at National Harbor. In a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, Cordish wrote that a Prince George’s facility would oversaturate the state’s gaming market. With gaming expansion failing to get a House vote, Cordish won a reprieve — at least until a special session is called.
Anti-slots clergy — Members of the faith-based Prince George’s County Collective Empowerment Group decried plans to bring expanded gaming into the county. Bishop Joseph H. Thomas, pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Suitland, compared the possibility to “trading our children’s future with high-paid casino lobbyists for 30 pieces of silver.” Like Cordish, the clergy got their way — at least until a special session.
Del. Neil C. Parrott — If voters in Maryland don’t know the Republican from Hagerstown (Dist. 2B), they will after the November election. Parrott is the person behind MDpetitions.com, which could usher as many as three referendums to the ballot in November.
Republicans laud Parrott’s efforts, while Democrats say they are a desperate attempt to rescue failed legislation.
Social media users — Pending a signature from Gov. Martin O’Malley, Maryland will become the first state to ban employers from asking for social media passwords of job applicants and workers to protect their privacy. The ACLU took up the issue after Robert Collins, a then-Division of Correction officer, was required to give up his Facebook password during a recertification interview. Collins said he had felt compelled to surrender the password to the investigator, who then logged on to his account and read his private messages.
Collins, who now is a nursing student, hailed the action by the legislature. “My hope is that other state legislatures and Congress follow Maryland’s example and pass comprehensive legislation and protect the privacy of all citizens,” he said.
The bill was put forward by Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick and Del. Mary L. Washington (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.
After another bill by Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (D-Dist. 40) of Baltimore that would have extended the same protections to college students was not passed out of committee after a hearing in February, he joined as a cosponsor of the Young and Washington bill.
Parliamentary geeks — The session was packed with moments that lovers of “Robert’s Rules” savored. From going through multiple legislative days in a single calendar day to motions for cloture and a last-minute attempt to extend the session by a vote in the chamber for the first time in state history, the House and Senate rule books were consulted often in 2012.
Chesapeake Bay — While the passage of environmental bills was a mixed bag this year (no, the bag tax did not pass), a significant batch of clean-water bills passed both chambers. O’Malley’s flush tax and septic-limiting bills were approved, as was a bill that requires the state’s nine largest counties and Baltimore city to create a fee to reduce polluted stormwater runoff.
“This was an extraordinary legislative session. Maryland legislators restored our hope for the future of the Chesapeake Bay and local creeks and rivers,” read a statement from the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition after the three bills passed.
Sen. George C. Edwards — In a last-minute change to the flush tax bill, Edwards (R-Dist. 1) of Grantsville was able to attach an amendment that the folks back home in Garrett County would be proud of.
The amendment, which was agreed to by the House, exempts any properties not located in the Chesapeake or coastal watersheds from paying the increased flush tax. Those areas — the westernmost portion of Garrett County and possibly some areas on the Eastern Shore that drain directly into the Atlantic Ocean — would continue to pay the $30 annual fee.
LOSERSSen. Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) of District Heights — He may have been acquitted of corruption charges in a federal court last fall, but the Prince George’s County legislator still had to face the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. The investigation led to Currie’s censure by the Senate for failing to disclose his work as a consultant to the Lanham-based Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain. Currie admitted that he had brought “dishonor” to the General Assembly and apologized to his colleagues before encouraging them to vote in favor of the censure.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — Despite scoring an early win with the passage of same-sex marriage, the legislature’s adjournment Monday without a complete budget package left the governor facing possible cuts in the education funding he has proudly touted for years and looking like he had little influence over the Democratic-controlled House and Senate. Furthermore, key initiatives such as offshore wind farms, public-private partnerships and a sales tax on gasoline failed to pass. From Day 1, O’Malley’s proposal to start applying the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gas had little support, and rising costs at the pump over the course of the session didn’t help. A late-in-the-game alternative proposal — to raise the state’s sales tax by a penny — didn’t get anywhere. The failure to reach a timely budget agreement once again prompted critics to declare that O’Malley was preoccupied with his national image and was out of touch with the debate over his budget.
Transportation Trust Fund — O’Malley came out strongly in favor of a gasoline tax early in the session, but interest from lawmakers fizzled as gas prices rose. Even so, advocacy groups and the governor continued to push for the increase. O’Malley argued that the increase is necessary if the state wants to avoid having infrastructure from 1992, the last year the gas tax was increased.
The state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding recommended in November that lawmakers raise $870 million for transportation to supplement the current $3.5 billion in annual revenues to the trust fund.
Opponents, including Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), criticized the tax, arguing that with the economy recovering slowly, consumers couldn’t afford the increased expense. Other opponents said current funding would be sufficient if the money was dedicated solely to transportation projects. A measure, co-sponsored by 22 senators, to do as much died in committee.
Wind power advocates — Numerous public demonstrations in support of offshore wind legislation, several of which featured appearances by O’Malley, culminated in the orchestrated arrest of three college students who occupied the State House steps in protest Monday. But the governor’s bill, which passed the House, 88-47, in March, languished in the Senate Finance Committee, as the clock ran out Monday night.
Sam Arora (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring — The freshman delegate from Montgomery County was immediately targeted for defeat in a re-election campaign after he voted against gay marriage. Members of the county delegation and Democratic political consultants took to Twitter within moments of the vote to call for Arora’s defeat.
Clergy opposed to same-sex marriage — A broad coalition of church groups from across Maryland, despite having the backing of some lawmakers and staging several rallies in Annapolis that drew supporters from out of state, weren’t able to keep same-sex marriage from passing this year. But they could find themselves victorious in November if enough signatures are collected to put the issue on the ballot, which has been a death sentence for same-sex marriage in other states.
Peter V.R. Franchot — Several of the state comptroller’s key pieces of legislation died in this year’s session. First, his push for financial literacy courses for high school students ended with an unfavorable report from the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. And, his bill to curb cigarette smuggling also died in Senate committee. Franchot also lost a high-profile argument with O’Malley and state Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) over a contract to revitalize I-95 travel plazas.
Rushern Baker III (D) — The Prince George’s county executive’s proposal for a billion-dollar casino at National Harbor — introduced after the session had begun — failed to gain traction in the House, despite the Senate’s passage of two separate bills paving the way for gaming in the county.
Sine Die pages — Each year, some of the best and brightest high school students in Maryland are chosen to be part of the General Assembly’s page program. One of the ultimate assignments for the year, Sine Die, turned sour this year when it became clear lawmakers wouldn’t finish their work. The pages, who had loaded piles of balloons and confetti into the galleries, eventually were forced to unload the celebratory items and head home just after midnight, without celebration.
Explanation: The story incorrectly identified the House sponsor of a social media password bill that passed. It was Del. Mary L. Washington (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore, not Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (D-Dist. 40) of Baltimore, who joined as a cosponsor after his similar bill failed in committee.