January 9, 2023

2023 Legislative Session Preview

Sherry Nickerson Legislative Preview

2023 Legislative Session Preview
by Sherry Nickerson, Government Affairs Director

Elections are finally behind us and a new administration is being ushered in, so all eyes will now be focused on the upcoming 2023 legislative session. Governor-Elect Moore is expected to hit the ground running and has taken the first important step by putting Delegate Eric Luedke, the former majority leader in the state House, in charge of shepherding his main initiatives through the Maryland General Assembly (MGA). As we look forward to the 2023 legislative session, the following are issues that we expect to be brought before the MGA.

Budget

Maryland has a constitutional requirement to pass the state’s $49 billion dollar budget during the annual legislative session. A referendum that passed during the 2020 election cycle and takes effect for FY 2024 allows for the Maryland General Assembly to increase, decrease or add items to the state budget as long as such measures do not exceed the total proposed budget submitted by the governor. In prior years, the state legislators were only allowed to cut from the budget and not add to it.

The influx of Federal stimulus money, including that from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the climate and inflation package known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has resulted in a $2.5 billion surplus in the Maryland state budget. The bulk of that surplus is under consideration for one-time capital expenses and to beef up the rainy-day fund which currently stands at an unprecedented 12% of the state budget.

Adult-Use Cannabis

During the 2022 general election, voters approved a ballot initiative that will authorize an individual who is at least 21 years old to use and possess cannabis in the state beginning July 1, 2023. The authorization is subject to a requirement that the General Assembly pass legislation regarding the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis. While creating the regulatory framework under which the adult use cannabis industry will function, the legislature must consider additional issues arising out of legalization, including integration of the State’s existing medical cannabis program, inclusion of social equity provisions, as well as public safety and health concerns.

Gun Control

Sparked by a recent Supreme Court ruling that said gun restrictions are valid only if in keeping with the constitutional text, history, and tradition of state firearm regulations when the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, the Maryland General Assembly will be considering legislation aimed at protecting Marylanders from firearm violence. Among those proposals will be a bill prohibiting gun possession in “sensitive locations,” such as schools, places of worship, parks, libraries, and hospitals. There is also expected to be legislation that makes further restrictions to ban gun possession within 100 feet of “public accommodations,” such as restaurants.

Reproductive Healthcare

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade did not directly impact Maryland law as § 20-209 of the Health – General Article codifies the protections of Roe by prohibiting the State from interfering with an abortion conducted before viability or at any point, if the procedure is necessary to protect the health or life of the women in cases of fetal defect, deformity, or abnormality. After the Dobbs decision, however, the Maryland General Assembly took steps to broaden access to abortion by expanding beyond physicians the types of health care providers who may perform abortions to include nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, licensed certified midwives, physician assistants, and other qualified licensed health care providers. They also appropriated state funds to provide training for those individuals and required health insurers and Maryland Medicaid to cover abortion services without a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or other cost-sharing requirement. While Maryland is well positioned on this topic, a bill that would have solidified abortion rights in the state constitution failed to be brought up for a vote on the Senate floor last year. House leadership has indicated that they will be refiling the legislation that will enshrine the state’s existing law that provides for a right to abortion in the Maryland Constitution. President Ferguson has declined to give any assurances of a floor vote on this issue in the Senate this year.

Zero-Emission Vehicle Requirements
Maryland has historically followed the lead of California when it comes to vehicle emissions regulations. Maryland adopted California’s stricter emissions standards (the Maryland Clean Cars Act) beginning with model vehicle 2011 vehicles and making it the twelfth state to adopt California’s emissions standards. This year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted stricter regulations requiring that all new cars and light trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles (ZEV), including a certain percentage of plug-in electric vehicles (EV), by 2035. Legislation will likely be introduced during the 2023 Maryland legislative session to address CARB’s stricter regulations.
Education & Learning Loss
Test scores and assessments from around the country have laid bare the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education. While learning loss impacted states and localities across the country, a Harvard University study shows that blue states and students from low-income areas were hit the hardest by the losses. Governor-Elect Moore has promised to tackle disrupted learning and position students for success by increasing funding for afterschool and summer programs, and tutoring.

One of Governor-Elect Moore’s stated focuses is to provide free pre-kindergarten for all of the state’s three- and four-year-olds in need. While the Blueprint for Maryland promises to expand pre-K to all children in need within the next 10 years, Moore believes that our children cannot wait 10 years. The primary question surrounding this issue for both Moore and state legislators will be of cost and how to pay for it.

Maryland, like many other states, is experiencing a shortage of both teachers and noninstructional staff in all local school systems. Teacher preparation, recruitment, retention, retirement, low wages, and high turnover are all reasons for this problem. Although Maryland is investing in long-term solutions to address this problem through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, additional actions may be needed to address the sizable number of vacancies throughout the state.

Workforce
With record low unemployment numbers and labor participation rates, a top priority for state leaders is developing the skilled workforce necessary to help businesses and communities compete. Incoming Governor Wes Moore, and Senate President Bill Ferguson have both indicated that this issue will be at the top of their agenda. During the 2022 interim, President Ferguson created the Senate President’s Workgroup on Apprenticeships. The purpose of the workgroup was to examine and make recommendations to reduce skill shortages in high-demand occupations and provide affordable training for career pathways for individuals in the public and private sectors.

The incoming governor has also promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023 and index it to the cost of living to ensure that worker wages do not degrade over time and ensure that every worker has access to paid sick, family and medical leave.

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