Assembly Endgame: strategizing replaces legislating as adjournment looms and cost-free victories are handed to Gov. Hogan

For the Assembly leadership, the fear of losing and looking weak is outweighing the duty to make some good law, and some good bills are foundering as a result.

/By Woody Woodruff/ As the 2016 session of the General Assembly approaches its nominal finish line (“sine die”) Monday, April 11, some good legislation is (sigh, once again) falling by the wayside to serve the strategic needs of the leadership.

Death by committee is afflicting some good bills. Others have made it through at least one floor vote, but are getting deliberately buried in the rush to adjournment. The carnage reminds us of the Assembly truism that it takes three or more years to get a good bill through the legislature but only one year to get a bad bill through.

You wonder if part of the reason Larry Hogan is so confoundingly popular among Marylanders is that he has gotten in some respects a free pass. The Assembly is so careful not to lose on a veto override episode that they don’t send legislation his way that they might not be able to override, if vetoed. Like paid sick leave. Like police accountability and criminal justice reform. Like automatic voter registration at age 18. Like a solid package to promote training and expenditures for green jobs on green projects – still in danger because it needs reconciliation between the two chambers. Like a state Earned Income Tax Credit bill that needs to be stripped of its last-minute pile of tax giveaways for the wealthy.

The leadership apparently doesn’t want to give the impression of weakness that might be signaled by a failure to override. So they don’t risk the confrontation. It’s likely, too, that there are Democratic delegates or senators in risky districts who need to avoid voting on some of these bills. Well, next year is even closer to 2018 and they will have less time to tuck such votes into the memory hole. Meanwhile, good bills get the back of the hand for another year. Will next year be easier?

The leadership’s power trip keeps these highly valuable bills, and the issues and failures of public will that they involve, basically out of the discourse at all. Because they don’t want to lose.

How are people in general going to see what the genial Larry Hogan is fronting for – the pro-business, anti-worker forces that maintain affluent Maryland’s many inequalities in everyday life – if the Democrats in the Assembly dodge that confrontation whenever it looks as though they might lose?

If Hogan shows his true colors by vetoing good bills like paid sick leave, police reform, and the many other good bills we have mentioned, people might begin to see through the good-guy façade to his being joined at the hip with the business community and the wealthy. Surely the Democrats – who are all too cozy with those same forces as well – could use to sharpen the contrast.

If these bills are worth it – and Progressive Maryland and other advocates for better public provision and reduced inequality think they are – then the Assembly’s legislators should keep on working past their Monday deadline and persuade the leadership that these bills are worth fighting for right down to the wire. There are worse things than “losing” to a governor whose right-wing allegiances are being hidden from the public with the help of the Assembly leadership.