Breaking Down the Wins and Losses of the 2023 Maryland Legislative Session for Progressive Maryland's Key Issues: Preview
Click here to read the full wrap up
The good news:
➥ unlike Maryland’s previous and largely failed attempt at medical cannabis regulations, the new law (HB556/SB516) will award all 160 licenses in the first round to minority- or women-owned businesses.
➥ a broad coalition of progressive leaders, led by the Maryland ACLU and including Progressive Maryland, succeeded in passing HB1071, which formally outlaws marijuana odor searches. This law will reduce racial profiling on our streets and make it less likely that Black Marylanders will be excluded from the benefits of marijuana legalization.
The bad news:
➥ General Assembly leaders declined to implement serious protections for workers in the cannabis industry. Progressive Maryland joined our partners in the labor movement, particularly UFCW 400, to demand Labor Peace Agreement language in the cannabis bill. But in the end, thanks to the opposition of Committee Chairs C.T. Wilson in the House, and Melony Griffith in the Senate, the language was not included in the final bill.
➥ under Progressive Maryland’s leadership, a broad coalition of community organizations, advocates, and former legislators joined together to reintroduce the De Minimis Quantity Decriminalization bill (HB927), which would have decriminalized possession of personal use quantities of a broad range of drugs. Despite many meetings with lawmakers, passionate testimony, and a positive hearing in the House, our bill was not put forward for a vote.
➥it is unfortunate that SB618 did not pass this session. This bill aimed to authorize community-based organizations to establish overdose and infectious disease prevention services programs.
Democratic leaders commit to continuing to pollute communities in South Baltimore
Among our greatest disappointments this session was Democratic leaders’ continued refusal to listen to South Baltimore’s demand to halt trash incineration at the Covanta facility (SB590/HB718). For decades, this smokestack has polluted the air and water of these working class, majority Black communities, leading to elevated rates of cancer and asthma, and some of the worst air quality in the entire state. Despite our efforts, House and Senate leaders, including Senate President Bill Ferguson – whose own district is home to the Covanta facility – refused to move the bill forward. Our work in South Baltimore continues and we are committed to building the power needed to win this fight.
★ One of the most exciting developments in healthcare policy in the past few years in Maryland has been the creation of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The PDAB is a regulatory body, the first of its kind in the US, that is empowered to set drug upper payment limits in the state on a range of common drugs, provided that the purchaser is a Maryland state entity, such as a public university, prison, etc. This year, a broad coalition, including Progressive Maryland, successfully got the Board fully funded and extended after previous resistance from the Hogan administration (HB279).
★The Access to Care Act, HB588, which opens the Maryland Health Exchange to immigrants by removing immigration status as a barrier, passed in the House by a vote of 100-34 in March. This measure would enable about 300,000 residents to purchase healthcare policies on the Maryland Health Exchange which was created when the ACA went into effect. Unfortunately, the Senate President refused to bring the bill up for a vote.This is the second year in a row that the Access to Care legislation didn’t advance despite repeated pledges from leadership to take bold action to ensure no Marylander is left behind. The fight will continue
★The End Medical Debt Campaign Maryland (we’re a core member group) was created to address the burden that medical debt is placing on thousands of families around the state. The HB333 bill solidifies and kicks off the process to reimburse low-income patients robbed by hospitals who wrongfully charged people eligible for free care.
Other key bills and issues this session
Democratic leaders ignore housing affordability crisis
One of the General Assembly’s most successful Covid-era interventions was the Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provided direct support to thousands of families facing eviction due to job loss, medical emergency, or other unforeseen crises. Despite the program’s proven success, Assembly leaders and the Governor have all chosen to walk away, at first defunding the program entirely, and then adding only a paltry $2 million after rapid response advocacy from Progressive Maryland and many of our allies. This funding will not be nearly enough to provide desperately needed support to the more than 100,000 Maryland households behind on rent.
Right to Reproductive Freedom
The passing of the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act (SB798) was a significant step forward for recommitting to reproductive rights in our state following the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. This bill ensures that all individuals have the right to reproductive healthcare such as birth control and abortion services. As a proposed constitutional amendment, Marylanders will vote on this bill in the 2024 election and the passing of this bill will guarantee it remains incontestable.