ANNAPOLIS — Maryland has three days left in its legislative session and as the state works to wrap up its budget, pass a minimum wage and medical marijuana and close a loophole for sexual conduct with students, Montgomery County’s top priority for the session appears to be headed nowhere.
The session ends at midnight Monday.
Montgomery County has been pushing since the outset of the 90-day session in January to establish a dedicated program that would provide the county with school construction funding.
As of Thursday, both proposals to do just that are mired in committees with no hope of advancing.
Montgomery asked for up to $20 million in extra school construction matching funds from the state by way of either a capital grant or an application program.
Sen. Nancy J. King said the lingering structural deficit in the state budget made providing that money impossible.
“It was kind of deceiving in the first place, putting that bill out when everybody knew the money wasn’t there,” King said. “But we at least wanted to get the conversation started.”
King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village said she hated to give her constituents the idea that they could get money that wasn’t actually there. And that money is not likely to be there until the fiscal 2017 budget, she said.
But Montgomery’s delegation is urging lawmakers to create a commission to study the growth needs of Maryland’s public schools in these final days of the session.
“We can’t keep growing at the rate we are growing and not do something major,” King said.
Lawmakers have until Monday to finalize the budget or convene a special session to continue work.
“We’ll have a balanced budget by Monday,” King said. King is an advisory member of the conference committee convened to develop a consensus on the budget.
Maryland’s House and Senate differed on a few provisions in the $38.7 billion spending plan, sending it to a committee of conferees. Both chambers agreed to shrink the payment to the state pension system by $200 million to close a budget gap.
While state is close to wrapping up a bill to increase access to medical marijuana, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot has died yet again in the House.
Lawmakers are working out differences between the House and Senate versions of the medical marijuana bill, specifically how many growers should be in the state and if patients should get marijuana directly from growers or through dispensaries.
But decriminalizing possession looks to be headed to a task force.
Rather than moving on a Senate bill to reduce the penalty for possessing 10 grams of marijuana from 90 days in jail to a $100 fine, the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday decided to set up a task force to study the issue.
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin is confident a committee of conferees can iron out differences in bills that seek to further restrict adults from having sexual conduct with students.
Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park said his bill is headed for conference committee and he is confident members can reach a consensus before the session ends.
“I’m very optimistic we can come out with a strong consensus,” he said. “I think that after more than a decade of trying this will be the year.”
Maryland law criminalizes sexual contact between certain people who are considered to be in a “position of authority” and minors in their care. But the law is limited to principals, vice principals, teachers and school counselors, and it only applies to individuals who are full-time, permanent employees. It does not apply to part-time employees and coaches, substitute teachers or volunteers.
A 2012 case in Montgomery County illustrated the limit of the current law. A 47-year-old teacher and coach who was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old former student couldn’t be prosecuted because he was a part-time employee.