Reeling from bridge collapse, state lawmakers still got other business done 

Reeling from bridge collapse, state lawmakers still got other business done 


Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS  – A tragedy in the Port of Baltimore threatened to overwhelm their best-laid plans at the end of this spring’s legislative session, but Maryland state lawmakers still managed to pass several key measures that look beyond the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and ahead to the future.

Passing the state spending plan is never an easy feat, but the General Assembly reached a resolution and passed the Fiscal Year 2025 State Budget several days before the end of session. Their $63 billion budget deal includes several tax and fee increases that aim to generate revenue for transportation and education initiatives.

Democratic lawmakers wrestled over the idea of raising revenues to cover rising costs, but in the end, the fees they raised represent only a drop in the bucket. Without major changes in future budgets, analysts predict Maryland will veer into a $3 billion deficit in five years.

Lawmakers also approved Gov. Wes Moore’s proposed capital budget, authorizing more than $1.7 billion in funds for building, construction, land acquisition and other fixed assets.

Lawmakers had only a 90-day legislative session in which to tackle these big ideas. As the final days ticked down this week, they worked hurriedly toward their deadline to pass crucial legislation.

As the end of the night quickly approached on Monday night, the Senate rapidly concurred with the House’s amendments on several measures and passed the capital budget unanimously. The session culminated in a celebration with balloons and confetti hailing down from the chamber balcony just moments after they wrapped up.

Throughout the final days of session, however, lawmakers bore an added pressure to pass emergency aid legislation following the collapse of the Key Bridge. The General Assembly burned the midnight oil to dispatch help for the communities affected by the collapse. The bridge crumbled into the Patapsco River after one of its pillars was struck by a giant cargo ship attempting to pass beneath.

As one of its last acts before adjournment, the legislature passed an emergency aid bill that would provide emergency funding to individuals and businesses affected by the debacle in the Port of Baltimore, set to be closed for several weeks. The bill will also assist those affected who do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Known as the PORT Act, the bill dips into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide this emergency funding. After lengthy discussions about the bill and its amendments, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as one of the last pieces of business before Monday’s midnight deadline.

“Democrats and Republicans (are) collectively standing together and saying that in this moment Maryland is going to do its part. But we have to understand what happened two weeks ago was not a Maryland catastrophe. This was a national catastrophe. And today, I will proudly sign the PORT Act into law,” Gov. Moore said at the bill signing on Tuesday.

Moore signed dozens of measures into law on Tuesday, and many others are on his desk for consideration now. Here are some notable bills from the 2024 legislative session:

Juvenile Justice

Lawmakers started the session with a strong focus on juvenile justice, leading to months of hearings and negotiations. In the end, among other things, the legislature expanded the list of crimes that can land children between 10 and 12 years of age in court.

Authors of the bill hope it will strengthen the state’s ability to link children with rehabilitative services, but critics worry it simply cracks down on young people responsible for a small sliver of Maryland crimes.

The final version of the bill adds third-degree sex offenses, aggravated animal cruelty and various firearms offenses to the crimes where the courts have jurisdiction over those children. It doubles the maximum length of probation for misdemeanors to one year and felonies to two years, with the possibility of extension.

Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the changes to the law are part of a “longterm, strategic outlook” to improve the juvenile justice system.

Energy and Environment

Legislators passed the EmPOWER Act, which requires gas and electric companies to create a plan to achieve specific energy efficiency and conservation goals. The bill aims to increase energy efficiency in low-income residences. In addition, the law creates a work group to study the effectiveness of these programs.

The legislature also voted in favor of the DRIVE Act, a bill that would create an electric vehicle (EV) charging program that connects charging vehicles to the state’s electric distribution network. The bill creates a pilot program to expand the adoption of electric vehicles and incentivize EV users to charge their vehicles in off-peak hours, reducing electricity brownouts.

In addition, lawmakers passed a bill that builds upon Maryland’s offshore wind energy goals established in last year’s POWER Act. The bill would allow companies with plans for offshore wind to submit plans with revised schedules, sizes, or pricing, aiming to propel Maryland closer to its goal of 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2031.


Housing was a top focus in Moore’s legislative agenda this session. He even testified in committee on a package of three bills aimed at “making Maryland more affordable,” one of his key goals. All of the bills passed by the deadline.

Maryland has a housing crisis, Moore said, and this legislation will invest in low-income communities, build more housing, incentivize high-density and transit-oriented development and provide more resources to renters.

Along with housing legislation, Moore pushed through the ENOUGH Act aimed at reducing childhood poverty. The measure provides grants targeted at communities with higher concentrations of poverty.

Fellow Democrats applauded the measure, even though some of them have raised questions about how the state is going to pay for such programs as it moves closer to the projected budget deficit.


Lawmakers approved the Freedom to Read Act, which aims to protect library materials and other literary resources from censorship and “book banning.” The bill acts as a safeguard for school and library employees and states that they may not be penalized for following state library standards.

Health and Safety

The legislature expanded the definition of “legally protected healthcare” in Maryland to include gender-affirming care practices and treatments. This bill expands on the legislature’s Reproductive Health Act of 2023. If signed, it will allow gender-affirming care to be protected from out-of-state litigation the same way abortion is.

Lawmakers passed another healthcare measure known as the Access to Care Act, which would enable the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to permit undocumented residents to purchase individual health care plans from the state.

In addition, lawmakers passed the Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson Judicial Security Act, after a judge was shot and killed in his driveway because he ruled against a man in a divorce and custody case. The measure will increase judicial security by prohibiting the publication of personal information and removing information like judges’ home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses from the internet and social media.


A Republican-backed bill to repeal a law prohibiting law enforcement officers from stopping and searching vehicles based only on the odor of marijuana stalled in committee this session. Democrats expressed concerns that the legislation would lead to unwarranted search and seizure against people of color.

Consumer Protection

A bill intended to crack down on ticket scalping passed in the final hours of session after weeks of debate in both chambers. The law will require the full ticket price be listed at each step of an online transaction. It also bans “speculative tickets,” meaning third-party vendors cannot sell tickets they don’t yet have in hand.

However, a proposed 10% price cap on tickets in the resale market did not make it through the legislative process.

“I’m thrilled to have championed a bill that makes Maryland one of the best places for concert-goers in the country,” Sen. Dawn Gile, D-Anne Arundel, told Capital News Service. “While we’ve made major progress this year, I also look forward to working with stakeholders, including the Office of the Attorney General, to build on this work so that scalpers can no longer have safe harbor in our state.”

Medical Aid-in Dying

The End-of-Life Option Act would have allowed terminally ill Maryland residents the right to die by self-administering lethal medication. While advocates expressed optimism the bill would pass after years of advocacy on the issue, it stalled when it did not garner enough support to pass out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that the bill is one vote short [from passing],” Senator Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, told Capital News Service.

Cage-Free Eggs

Before session began, Sen. Karen Lewis Young, D-Frederick, expressed high hopes of passage for her bill mandating that all eggs bought and sold in Maryland be cage-free by 2026.

But the idea encountered heavy pushback from the farming community, amid concerns that increased costs of the requirement could put them out of business. The bill did not make it out of committee in either chamber and it’s unclear whether sponsors will take up the fight again next year.

Motorcycle Helmets

Yet again, the legislature heard a bill that would make wearing a helmet optional for most motorcyclists. Yet again, it failed.

But the grassroots motorcycle group behind it is a hardy group. They’ve gotten such a bill introduced nearly every year since Maryland passed a mandatory helmet law in 1992.

“They’re diehards for what they believe in,” Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s, told Capital News Service. “They don’t let go of this stuff.”

Steph Quinn, Kiersten Hacker, Tyrah Burris, Sapna Bansil and Angelique Gingras contributed to this story.

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Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. With bureaus in Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, they deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations and a destination Website.