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Assembly pushes legislation in time for veto overrides

Rachel Baye

With the General Assembly about to enter its final full week in session, legislators are rushing to pass some of the more contentious bills in time to override potential vetoes from Gov. Larry Hogan.

By getting bills to the governor on Friday, lawmakers have a chance for veto overrides before the session ends.

On Friday, the Senate passed bills legalizing the use and possession of small amounts of recreational cannabis after a brief debate.

One places a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The other would legalize possession of 1.5 ounces of marijuana or less for adults, allow those convicted of small amounts of marijuana possession to apply for immediate release and others to seek expungement of their records. They would take effect only if the amendment passes.

The debate boiled down to some lawmakers questioning whether marijuana use actually needs to be in the Constitution and if so, why.

“I think a lot of the things that we do down here help the citizens of Maryland each day. But why is this so important that it's in the constitution of Maryland?” asked Republican Senator Stephen Hershey who represents Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, and Cecil Counties.

He pointed out legalizing marijuana has been debated in the Senate in previous sessions, but has not been proposed as a constitutional amendment.

But Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, argued Maryland is more limited than other states in how it can get the public’s input on legislation. He said by making it a referendum, the General Assembly can give more of a voice to the people.

“In order for us to have the input of the citizens of our state,” Feldman said, “this is the mechanism available for the legislature to do it. So we know we don't have maybe the tools of some of these other states to make it easier, but this is actually quite common to let the folks of our state weigh in before we take the next step.”

On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill along party lines that would establish a state paid family and medical leave insurance program. It would guarantee employees between 12 and 24 weeks of leave during illness or a family emergency.

Both employers and employees would contribute to a fund that would pay employees up to 90% of their income during an absence. Similar programs have been established in nine states and Washington, D.C.

Anne Arundel County Republican Leader, Sen. Bryan Simonaire argued the bill, which was amended in the House, doesn’t offer concrete information on how much the initiative will cost.

“It sounds like the committee doesn't have an idea of how many employees that will impact, or employers, and thus not knowing how much money we're losing in this plan,” Simonaire said.

But bill sponsor Democrat Sen. Antonio Hayes of Baltimore said legislative analysts have in fact determined the costs will be low, even for small businesses.

“Employers that have under 14 employees, will not be required to make a contribution to the program but the employees will have the opportunity to participate in the program. At the end of the day, we're talking about a dollar fifty, two dollars.”

The legislation heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk. He has six days to sign or veto it before it automatically becomes law.

The last day of the 2022 General Assembly is Monday, April 11.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.