By Ilana Kowarski
Here are updates on the General Assembly’s action on bills we covered earlier in the session.
OPEN MEETINGS: A bill increasing penalties for violations of the Open Meetings Act has passed both houses of the General Assembly after being watered down in committee and will become law on October 1 if signed by the governor. The General Assembly also passed legislation requiring that employees of public bodies take training courses on the Open Meetings Act.
OBAMACARE: The Maryland Health Progress Act, a law that would finish the state’s implementation of national health reform, was passed by both houses of the General Assembly and will take effect on June 1.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013, which upped contribution limits and imposed steeper fines for violations of campaign finance laws, passed both the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates. Much of the law doesn’t go into effect until the next election cycle, but it did change the filing deadline for next year’s election from April 9 to Feb. 25.
“Taken as a whole, this bill advances a suite of reforms that will greatly strengthen our campaign finance laws,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
The bill closes the loophole that treated limited liability companies owned by the same person as entirely separate entities. This loophole gave the owners of LLCs, such as developers and casino owners, the ability to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an election, far beyond the limits applied to any other individual or corporation. The bill also takes the first step towards public funding in the last 20 years by enabling county governments to establish such a system for county offices.
VOTER SUPPRESSION: Del. Sandy Rosenberg’s (D-Baltimore City) bill allowing citizens to seek injunctive relief from voter suppression, passed 91-45 in the House of Delegates but never made it to the Senate floor. It received a hearing in the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, where it died.
EDUCATION REFORM: The House Ways and Means Committee never took action on legislation that would mandate school reform in cases where a public school failed to meet state standards and a majority of the students’ parents petitioned their school board to implement a school improvement plan.
VETERANS PLATE: Del. Mike Smigiel’s bill establishing a state license plate honoring veterans died in the House Environmental Matters Committee. Registration fees for the license plate would have been directed towards a charity for members of the armed forces, the Maryland chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
SOFT-SHELL CRAB SANDWICH: An effort to make the soft-shell crab sandwich Maryland’s state sandwich passed in the Senate, but failed to make it to a vote in the House. Delegate Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico, introduced the House bill and Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, introduced the Senate bill in an effort to help Maryland watermen.
Colburn said watermen are an endangered species and this designation would help them. “The Maryland waterman is on the state seal,” he said. “And that’s a dying breed.”
Capital News Service contributed the last item.