January 8, 2024

2024 Legislative Session Preview

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Legislative Session Preview by Sherry Nickerson

As the 2024 Legislative Session looms ahead, the Moore administration and the Maryland General Assembly are facing some tough decisions on the budget, juvenile justice, education reform, and the environment.

Budget

Due to the end of billions in federal aid that pumped up state coffers in recent years as well as the exorbitant price tag attached to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan, Maryland will be facing a structural budget shortfall of approximately $1.8 billion by fiscal year (FY) 2028. In November, legislative budget analysts projected that the state faces a structural gap of $322 million in the upcoming legislative session. Analysts predict that gap will grow in FY 2026 and 2027 to $376 million and $436 million respectively and finally reach $2.1 billion by FY 2029 unless some changes are made immediately. Legislators will be forced to consider both spending cuts and the possibility of increasing taxes prior to the end of the 90-day session. Some of the changes currently being thrown around are cuts to highway and transit projects and local shares of highway user revenues over the next six years; the creation of new fees on owners of electric vehicles and toll increases on out-of-state drivers; possibly scaling back on the commitments created by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future; or allowing for legalized (and taxable) e-sports gaming. The Governor must introduce his proposed budget on or before January 17th; then the legislature will begin working their magic to produce a finished product by April 1st.

Environment

In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly approved the Climate Solutions Now Act mandating greenhouse gas emission reductions by 60% (based on 2006 levels) by 2031. The plan, which was championed by Senator Paul Pinsky, focuses on transitioning the state from the fossil fuel era of the past into a renewable energy future. Last month, Maryland Department Secretary of the Environment Serena McIlwain released an aggressive plan that recommends creating incentive programs that would reward Marylanders with thousands of dollars in rebates for purchasing electric vehicles, handed over directly at the point of sale.
The plan also recommends incentives to homeowners intended to encourage them to electrify their homes when facing “key decision points” such as replacing a furnace with a heat pump.

State agencies are being asked to look into creating ambitious regulations like a “Clean Power Standard” which would require all of the electricity used in Maryland to be generated by renewable sources by 2035. The current standard is 50% renewable energy by 2030.

The plan lays out a bold vision but falls short of resources to fund these priorities. In a year of budget uncertainty, this agenda could cost upwards of $1 billion per year to implement.

Juvenile Justice

While homicides stayed under 300 this year, there has been an influx of high-profile crimes for which juveniles were responsible. Last year the Maryland General Assembly passed the Child Interrogation Protection Act that restructured how the state deals with young people involved in certain crimes by providing them resources versus detaining them behind bars and prosecuting them in court. This has led to some confusion as to whether law enforcement officers are able to question juveniles about crimes that they have either witnessed or committed without an attorney present. There is some discussion around tweaking that law to provide clarity to law enforcement.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates have recently introduced the “parent responsibility act” as a legislative priority to require parents to enforce juvenile home monitoring guidelines and hold them responsible for truancy. They have also proposed extending the probationary period for juveniles guilty of a firearm misdemeanor from six months to two years and those found guilty of committing a violent felony from two years to a maximum of four years.

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Luke Clippinger agreed that the committee will assess the length of time children are on probation but declared that any decisions that they make regarding this issue will need to be based on analytical data.

Both Chair Clippinger and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith declared that the state’s Children in Need of Supervision protocols must be assessed this session. The process, which is overseen by the Department of Juvenile Services, allows representatives from law enforcement agencies to fill out a form to refer youth and their families to a variety of services designed to keep then out of the revolving door of the juvenile justice system. Law enforcement officers claim that forms are a waste of time because proper services for these youth do not exist. Senator Jill Carter is reintroducing legislation from last session that will make it mandatory for an intake officer to file a CINS petition if a child under the age of 13 commits an offense that results in the death of a victim.

Military Families

Governor Wes Moore announced in November that he intends to make 2024 the “Year for Military Families”. The Governor indicated in December that his administration will introduce the Families Serve Act of 2024 in January. This legislation will create stronger pathways to employment for military families by allowing private-sector employers to implement preferential hiring for spouses of active duty servicemembers. For the state government, the legislation will expand the preferential hiring process currently in place for veterans to include military spouses.

The Governor also announced the Time to Serve Act of 2024, which doubles military leave available to state employees who serve in the National Guard or military reserves. This legislation will give servicemembers enhanced flexibility to use their leave for personal purposes like spending time with family, rather than for purposes relating to their service in the Guard or reserves. The bill will additionally expand Disaster Service Leave for state employees from 15 days to 30 days.

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