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General Assembly Passes Last-Minute Laws Related To Immigration, Parole, Sports Betting

Rachel Baye

At the stroke of midnight Monday night, the General Assembly wrapped up a once-in-a-generation legislative session, shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and national conversations about racial justice.

When legislative leaders began this year’s session, two of their top priorities were broad police reforms and relief for Marylanders from the economic effects of the pandemic. Both became law before the last day hurdle.

Still, the busy session remained so through to the end. The last day, known as “Sine Die,” featured debates about immigration, criminal justice and climate change.

Among the more controversial bills left unfinished at the beginning of the day Monday was one, as Senate President Bill Ferguson described to reporters, “having to do with protection for immigrants and making sure that our local police officers don't become contract officers for a federal [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] division.”

The bill forces Frederick and Worcester counties to stop detaining immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities.

Those counties “have been Airbnb-ing spare prison cells to ICE to make a little bit of side cash as a side hustle and bring in revenue for their counties,” Del. David Moon, a Montgomery County Democrat, said during a late-night floor debate.

Republicans argued that losing those arrangements with ICE will cost the counties valuable income and jobs. Supporters of the bill said the jurisdictions should not be relying on ICE for the revenue.

“I'm sorry if some local governments might make fewer bucks, but this is not how we should be making money — off the backs of hard-working people,” said Del. Brooke Lierman, a Democrat who represents South Baltimore, including the large immigrant community in the Highlandtown area.

The bill also prohibits police from detaining people longer than necessary for the purpose of investigating their immigration status.

A few hours before the bill passed, Gov. Larry Hogan promised to veto it.

“I would veto any sanctuary bill that passed the legislature today,” he told reporters. “Hopefully that won’t happen, but we would definitely veto that.”

Both chambers passed the bill with just enough votes to override a veto.

Another bill that passed Monday that Hogan said he dislikes would remove the governor from the process of granting parole to someone serving a long prison sentence.

“Giving that — all that power to the Parole Commission and just making it even more lenient than it is now I think would be a mistake,” he said.

Under existing law, the Maryland Parole Commission gives the governor recommendations, and the governor makes the final call regarding who should be released. The bill removes the last step.

The change is something advocates have pushed for years. Former Gov. Parris Glendening has lobbied for it, saying politics doesn’t belong in the parole process.

Earlier this session, Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, said even without the governor making the final call, getting parole is not easy.

A potential parolee has “got to seriously show that they are changed, that they are remorseful, and that they are being so productive that it would be to the benefit of society to have them out,” Carter said.

On the other hand, Democrats and Republicans alike wanted a bill creating a legal framework for sports betting. Still, it took until the last day of the session to work out the details.

The final version caps the number of licenses at just under 100, divided among different types and classifications of operators.

“The goal is to go live by kickoff of the NFL in the first week of September,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Anne Kaiser.

Of course, plenty of bills failed to pass in the legislature’s 90-day window.

One of these, the “Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021,” died in the final hours of Monday night.

The legislation attempted broad changes to environmental policy, including a further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, new environmentally friendly state building standards, and a plan to plant five million trees.

But the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement.

“They got rid of solar in schools across the state. They got rid of the funding to electrify the state's passenger vehicle fleet. They got rid of the building codes,” said Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Paul Pinsky, who sponsored the bill. “There are a lot of major problems with it. I mean, it's stripped of 80% of the bill.”

Some of the bill’s provisions were added to other legislation, such as the tree planting goal. For everything else, lawmakers will have to wait until next year.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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