A forest of veto override activity "in Annapolis" contrasts sharply with continued gridlock in DC -- though a few flowers are blooming amid the carnage. We round up what has been going on in these seats of power and how progressives can work to forward good things in both. A summary of this post with a link to the full package appears in this week's Monday Memo from Progressive Maryland, one of the oases in the news desert.
Power plays abounded in the General Assembly special session last week. Many Assembly priorities had been put on hold by Gov. Hogan's vetoes after the 2021 regular session. With one important exception -- the Senate President said the Assembly would take another look at bill 420, decriminalizing drug paraphernalia, but during the regular 2022 session in January.Details on bills back in effect now -- or soon -- are below.
In another power move, Del. Dereck Davis of Prince George's was appointed by his colleagues to be the next State Treasurer, succeeding the retiring Nancy Kopp. Davis had been a possible next House Speaker after the death of Michael Busch but lost to compromise candidate Adrienne Jones. Because the Treasurer is one of three (with the Governor and Comptroller) sitting on the powerful Public Works Commission that signs off on actual expenditures, Davis joins a powerful troika and gives Prince George's a foot in the door of the Room Where it Happens, something that has driven him for a while.
In DC, the major holdout on the Build Back Better human infrastructure bill remains our WVA neighbor Sen. Joe Manchin. He will be massaged this week by everyone from Pres. Biden (today, Monday) on down, and we all hope folks in his state who are struggling will let Manchin know about the virtues of a just, sustainable transition from coal and fracking as well as family leave. His constituents have sung him a nice song about it; maybe you would enjoy sharing WVCAG’s great video with dozens of constituents across West Virginia singing to Senator Manchin to pass the Build Back Better Act.
Thanks to our ally Megan Essaheb at People's Action for the video link; she also shares this:
"Majority Leader Schumer hopes to bring the Build Back Better Act to the Senate floor during the week of December 20th with a final vote likely on the 24th. The plan is dependent on the parliamentarian being finished with the Byrd bath process. Last week, Senate Democratic committee chairs all met with the parliamentarian over the last couple of weeks to get feedback on their sections of the Build Back Better Act. This week Republicans and Democratic Senators will meet with the parliamentarian together where Democrats will defend against Republican challenges to legislative text under the Byrd rule. Final negotiations are also happening with Senator Manchin who seems to be negotiating without any commitment that he will vote for the bill. He may not decide whether or not to vote for the bill until the final moment.
"Preliminary bill text by committee is available here but is subject to change based on opinions from the parliamentarian and further political negotiations. Tax changes, particularly around the SALT deduction, and a continued push for the billionaires tax are being discussed, along with paid leave, which Manchin opposes, and some climate provisions are still up for debate. There may also be an opening to improve the childcare provisions since the CBO score for that program came out lower than expected. "
Less hopefully, POLITICO PLAYBOOK reports (dispiritingly) among other roadblocks. "the still-unresolved disputes over key BBB provisions: Senators are still haggling over the state and local tax deduction, paid family leave and climate policies. As our Hill team reports this morning , Schumer has been trying to use the expiring enhanced child tax credit to up the pressure on his members to get this done. But so far, all signs point to BBB getting kicked into 2022..."
But PA's Megan also shares that Manchin "is trying to come up with some fairly, I would say, creative ideas about the rules,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican." The Hill article continues, noting that though there are various guerrilla groups of Dem senators chatting up GOP senators about this, Manchin is a one-man guerrilla band. "Thune added that Manchin had spoken with other GOP senators and that there was a “considerable amount of interest in trying to make the Senate functional.” Our italics, and just "wow!"
Also (from People's Action) HUGE surprise, right? The Washington Post reported that the House Oversight Committee released a report (by Democrats only) on a three-year investigation finding that the pharmaceutical industry relies on drug-pricing practices that are “unsustainable, unjustified and unfair.” Read more at the link.
MEANWHILE IN MARYLAND: VETO OVERRIDES ON PARADE
The special session was supposed to be about redistricting. It turned out to be more about overriding Hogan’s vetoes – including one on the redistricting plan the Assembly approved.
On Thursday, Hogan vetoed the LRAC redistricting plan at a press conference at 2:15 p.m.
And the General Assembly swiftly overrode Hogan’s veto, roughly an hour and a half after he announced it. The House voted 96-41 in favor of an override, the Senate supported the move 32-14
Here are bills whose vetoes mn by Hogan were overridden by supermajorities of both chambers, a list compiled by the DCist/WAMU newsroom:
Grants for small business along the Purple Line -- The bill requires the Maryland Department of Commerce to establish the Purple Line Construction Zone grant program. The program will provide $1 million in both fiscal years 2023 and 2024 to help small businesses affected by construction. After a number of delays, the Purple Line is slated to open in 2024. When completed, the light rail line will run from New Carrollton Metro in Prince George’s County to the Bethesda Metro in Montgomery County.
Immigration protections -- Two immigration bills were also overridden by lawmakers. One would prohibit any state agency from providing personal information about an immigrant to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent without a warrant.
Another bill prohibits state law enforcement agencies from entering into agreements with ICE. It also prohibits state prisons from housing immigrants who are awaiting deportation.
Advocates with the immigrant advocacy organization CASA told DCist/WAMU earlier this year when the bills initially passed that both measures go a long way toward securing much-needed civil protections for immigrants in the state.
When Hogan vetoed these bills, he said he didn’t want to prohibit federal agents from doing their jobs and would not make Maryland a sanctuary state for immigrants.
Possibility of parole for lifetime imprisonment
The bill, which was voted out of both chambers along party lines, removes the authority of the governor to determine parole for those incarcerated with lifetime sentences and gives it to a six member parole commission. Under the measure, people serving lifetime sentences with the possibility of parole become eligible for release after serving the equivalent of 20 years. Baltimore City Sen. Jill Carter (D), one of the bill’s sponsors, told her colleagues on the senate floor earlier this week that the bill was a small step in the right direction.
“This bill is a minor step in the process of criminal justice reforms that are needed and long overdue in Maryland to right these wrongs,” Carter said. “It simply puts us in line with 47 other states that allow a parole commission to be the final arbiters in determining whether a person’s liberty should be restored.”
Republican lawmakers argued that the bill would increase violent crime in the state. Hogan vetoed the bill earlier this year calling it an “unfounded and unnecessary power grab and another instance of the legislative branch seeking to diminish the authority of the governor.”
Implementing COVID-19 response plan
Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers approved a bill that will require the state’s department of health to implement a plan to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on underserved and minority communities. In fiscal year 2022, the bill also requires the department to provide local health departments with $15 million in grants to get their residents vaccinated and $25 million in grants for other pandemic response purposes, $36 million in grants to assisted living programs and home health care agencies to conduct COVID testing, and $22 million for testing in nursing homes.
Based on department data, it was clear that people of color were dying at much higher rates from COVID than their white counterparts. When the vaccine rollout began, many state lawmakers questioned Health Secretary Dennis Schrader about the equity in the vaccine distribution. Across the region, people of color were being vaccinated at lower rates compared to their white counterparts.
Hogan vetoed the bill calling it misguided and said it would revert the state back to the beginning of the pandemic in requiring the department to re-develop its testing, contact tracing, and vaccinate distribution plans.
Hogan vowed to mount a legal battle against the redistricting maps after his veto was, as expected, overridden and contended that the courts would have the final say over what he claimed were “disgracefully gerrymandered” and “illegal” congressional districts drawn by Maryland Democrats (The Sun)
Hogan also asked for reconsideration during the session of two punishment-focused bills to curtail violence in Baltimore, one of his favorite targets.
Senate Bill 5, or the Judicial Transparency Act of 2021, would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to track judicial sentencing information for violent crimes to be published in its annual report provided to the governor and legislature.
Senate Bill 6, also known as the Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2021, would increase the length of and impose mandatory sentences for people who have been repeatedly convicted of firearms offenses.
As in previous years, the Assembly majority ignored the bills -- but House Speaker Adrienne Jones appointed a study group on violent crime remedies; group member Rachel Jones (D-Calvert and Prince George’s) said the group would seek “a more holistic solution to make our neighborhoods safer.” Senate President Bill Ferguson invited Hogan to “[use] the $42 billion [surplus from robust tax revenue and federal stimulus] that the state has to improve communities
Don’t Widen I-270” transit advocates are sharing a recent Sierra Club report about the project which should aid grassroots Toll-Lane opposition. Some new facts and updates about the timeline are revealed in this document.