Assembly session ends with significant unfinished business

The Maryland General Assembly's Monday night marathon saw two important bills held hostage for one another over tax breaks for the rich. Progressives won some victories, but it's a bittersweet finale.

/PM BlogSpace Report/ Several big disappointments mingled with some significant progressive victories as the Maryland General Assembly wrapped its 2016 work – maybe – at midnight Monday, April 11.

A last-minute hostage situation left two important bills hanging and unpassed – a sweeping tax package that would have harnessed the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to broaden support for working people, and a requirement for employers to provide earned sick leave for up to 700,000 now-vulnerable Marylanders, many low-income. Both had been top priorities of Progressive Maryland and many allied advocacy groups during the session.

The Senate leadership’s push to add tax breaks for the wealthy to the EITC package led it to keep the earned sick leave bill, which had been passed by the House, trapped in a Senate committee, and as both failed at midnight Senate President Mike Miller floated a suggestion that a special session could be called to revisit both bills.

Progressives could enjoy modest victories on a big criminal justice package that will cut jail populations and ease sentencing constraints for nonviolent offenses, as well as a police accountability package that will let civilians be a part of police misconduct trials, where previously abusive officers were only judged by other department members.

The police accountability bill went down to the wire with constant pressure from police to weaken the role of civilians in a reformed process. “We were wrestling to protect pieces of the police bill up until around 10 p.m.” the final night, said Larry Stafford, Progressive Maryland’s executive director.

Several big environmental bills passed with wide support, raising the bar for the state’s shift to renewable energy resources and the jobs and economic development that would – or should – accompany that shift.

Few bills made it through the process without tough fights to prevent weakening by advocates for the business sector, mostly but hardly all from the Republican side. The tax breaks for the wealthy that appeared to have sunk both the EITC package and the paid sick leave bill were supported by the Senate’s Democratic leadership and touted as making the state more “business friendly,” a mantra also of GOP Gov. Larry Hogan.

The lawmakers were enthusiastic about another tax break, nearly $40 million for defense megacorp Northrop Grumman to soothe the company’s hints about leaving the state. Even Republicans cringed about “corporate welfare” and Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-47) said he couldn’t find any job creation in the bill… but it passed.

Progressive forces are placing some hope – but not too much – in Miller’s suggestion of a one-day special session to complete the unfinished business on EITC and paid sick leave. House and Senate leadership will have to have settled their differences well in advance for such a one-off event to pass those bills.