Saturday, April 5, 2014

JUICE: Final Marijuana Decriminalization & Minimum Wage Votes Imminent // PLUS: Updates on "House of Cards" & More!

Sorry for the long hiatus in posts recently, but my latest "project" is keeping me quite busy these days. And if it is successful, this blog will go through a bit of a transition. But that's a story for another day.

In the meantime, we thought it best to give a quick status check on high profile bills in Annapolis, given that the legislative session ends this coming Monday. It's now or never to get your final emails and calls in to lawmakers, but we already know the outcome of several high-profile battles. Below Maryland Juice provides a quick status check on various hot-button legislative initiatives of interest to politicos:

JUICE #1: MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION FACING "DO OR DIE" VOTE THIS SATURDAY MORNING  //  LAST CALL FOR EMAILS TO MD HOUSE MEMBERS - For the second year in a row, members of Maryland's State Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to remove jail time as a penalty for marijuana possession. Over a dozen other states have adopted this reform, and polling numbers indicate fewer than 10% of Marylanders believe incarceration is appropriate in these cases. But the bill has faced an oddly tortured debate in the House of Delegates, where Judiciary Chair Joe Vallario seeks to kill the legislation by turning it into a "study commission" bill. Reform advocates are now alerting supporters that there may be a "do or die" vote on the decriminalization bill today (Saturday). Sorry for the late notice. In any case, Maryland Reporter's Len Lazarick posted an article tonight providing some details on the last ditch effort to pass marijuana decriminalization this year (excerpt below):
MARYLAND REPORTER: A wave of support among House Democrats for decriminalizing marijuana is apparently forcing the House Judiciary Committee to reverse itself and approve a Senate bill, SB364, removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The committee earlier this week had turned the legislation into a two-year study of the issue, but Del. Keiffer Mitchell sought to revive the bill on the floor Friday. Floor debate and a potential vote are set for Saturday.
After counting votes for decriminalization, House leaders apparently decided there was too much support for the move the Senate has passed two years in a row to go along with Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario’s staunch opposition.... Mitchell said the racial disparities in marijuana arrests could not wait another two years....

CONTACT MD HOUSE MEMBERS ASAP: A diverse group of advocates who have joined forces under the umbrella of The Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland are calling on residents to contact members of the House of Delegates ASAP. You can send an email to your House members through the link below:

The coalition includes groups ranging from the NAACP and ACLU to CASA de Maryland and Equality Maryland. Check out their urgent action alert and contact your House members as soon as possible. The vote on decriminalization is this Saturday, April 5th (excerpt below):
MARIJUANA POLICY COALITION OF MD: Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee gutted a decriminalization bill — SB 364 — and turned it into a study that wouldn’t even report its findings until December 2015. Since then, several delegates have made it clear they’re not going to let decriminalizing marijuana die a quiet death.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus plan to propose an amendment on the House floor to restore the bill to the version that passed the Senate! Please take to the phones to ask your legislators to vote “yes” on the amendment.

If you don’t have time to make a phone call, you can instead send a pre-written email. It only takes a minute to let your voice be heard.

The vote will happen tomorrow (Saturday), so please don’t delay! Every year, about 20,000 Marylanders are arrested for possession of marijuana. Let your delegates know that it’s time for action, not yet another study. It’s past time for Maryland to stop branding its residents as criminals for using a substance that is safer than alcohol....

JUICE #2: MINIMUM WAGE HIKE FACING FINAL VOTE IN MD SENATE // HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED & WHAT COMES NEXT - Throughout the current legislative session, economic justice organizations have been calling on Maryland lawmakers to advance a minimum wage increase. Advocates specifically asked for the following reforms to the state's current $7.25 an hour wage rate:
  1. Raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour
  2. Raise the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the full minimum wage
  3. Index the minimum wage to adjust with inflation
THE HOUSE'S VERSION OF THE MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: The House of Delegates took up the minimum wage proposals ahead of the Senate, and The Washington Post reported on the version of the legislation they passed last month (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday approved a plan to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2017.... The bill approved by the House is somewhat less ambitious than what O’Malley (D) proposed....

This week, a House committee struck a provision from the governor’s bill that called for automatic increases in the minimum wage beyond 2017 based on inflation.... Under the bill, individual Maryland counties would be allowed to set higher minimum wages than the state. Late last year, the Montgomery and Prince George’s county councils voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017 in their jurisdictions.... The bill that passed the Maryland House would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour on Jan. 1; to $9.15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016; and to $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.... The committee delayed the implementation date by six months to give businesses more time to adjust.

Lawmakers also carved out an exemption for Six Flags and other seasonal amusement park operators and, in response to pressure from the restaurant industry, changed the way that O’Malley proposed compensating tipped workers.... Tipped employees would have to be paid an hourly rate of $3.63 in addition to tips....
THE SENATE'S VERSION OF THE MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: In short, the House passed a $10.10 minimum wage to be phased in by 2017, but they removed advocates' "indexing" and tipped worker provisions, and they carved out an exemption for Six Flags. Tonight, the Maryland Senate settled on details of their version of the minimum wage bill and a final vote on the bill may happen tomorrow (SATURDAY). The Baltimore Sun reported on specifics within the Senate bill moving forward (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: Gov. Martin O'Malley's chief legislative priority to raise the minimum wage cleared another hurdle Friday as the Senate granted initial approval after a marathon debate. Lawmakers made 18 different attempts to redraft the proposal that incrementally raises pay for the state's lowest-earning workers from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2018.... the Senate could pass the measure as soon as Saturday....

The Senate created a "training wage" that allows employers to pay workers under 19 years old a lower rate for the first six months on the job. It also tied in the minimum wage increase to a hike in state pay for caregivers of the developmentally disabled, a plan that carries a $30 million price tag....
So the Senate's version of the minimum wage increase delays full implementation an extra year, compared to the House bill. Meanwhile, the exclusion of young workers is another twist in the narrative. Activists from the Raise Maryland coalition described the status of the minimum wage debate tonight (excerpt below):
RAISE MARYLAND: The Senate has completed the second reader of their version of the minimum wage bill, with one more scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday, April 5th). Unfortunately, their bill moved the phase-in period back so the minimum wage will not reach $10.10 until 2018, and it did not unfreeze the tipped minimum wage. However, this is still a big victory, given that advocates have been trying to raise Maryland's minimum wage since 2006. We look forward to both the Senate and House passing this bill right away!
Many of us are disappointed that the effort has been watered down, especially because removal of indexing means we will now be forced to fight for cost of living adjustments perpetually. But the context of the fight was happening in a seemingly polarized environment, as reported by WBAL (excerpt below):
WBAL: A marathon debate ensued in the Senate on Friday over the governor's minimum wage bill as time winds down before the close of the legislative session. They advanced the bill, paving the way for a rare Saturday voting session, giving both chambers just one day to find common ground.

An 11th-hour appeal arose as supporters of increasing the minimum wage formed a reception line to greet legislators entering the State House, urging them to get the bill on the governor's desk before the session ends midnight on Monday.

Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans repeatedly tried to amend the legislation and for decidedly different reasons.... Liberal Democrats tried shorten the phase-in and tie future increases to the consumer price index, making a parallel to indexing the eventual elimination of the estate tax... The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the measure Saturday, but some wonder even then whether that's enough time to sort out differences before the session ends Monday....
Indeed, elimination of the tipped worker and indexing provisions is especially disappointing, but it seems these issues may have to return as advocacy efforts in future sessions.

JUICE #3: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE "HOUSE OF CARDS" HANDOUT, ESTATE TAX CUT, SECOND CHANCE ACT, TRANSGENDER BILL & MORE - A few bills of note were approved in recent weeks, and below we flag a few of the higher profile efforts:

TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES FOR THE "HOUSE OF CARDS" TV SERIES: The Washington Post reported last February that producers of the Netflix TV series "House of Cards" were demanding millions of dollars in taxpayer handouts, while threatening to move production out of state if their demands were not met. Actor Kevin Spacey himself even personally lobbied lawmakers for the welfare payment, and Delegate Bill Frick introduced an interesting amendment in response to the extortion. The Washington Post reported on the duel last week (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: Members of the Maryland House of Delegates are still stewing over a threat from the “House of Cards” producers to leave the state if they don’t get millions more dollars in tax credits. So delegates have issued a threat of their own: Sure, go ahead, leave this beautiful place that’s brimming with dedicated workers. But if you do that, state officials might use eminent domain to purchase, condemn or somehow seize your sets, equipment and other property.

The threat was proposed Thursday afternoon by Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) and quickly approved with barely any debate or even a roll-call vote. “I literally thought: What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?” said Frick, referring to the Netflix drama’s lead character, a charming but conniving politician who murders, blackmails and threatens his way to greater power. “Eminent domain really struck me as the most dramatic response....  It’s a terrific show. I love it. You probably love it,” Frick said on the House floor. But, he added, the threatening letter that Media Rights Capital sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in January “went a little far....”
But alas, you can usually bet on the house to win, especially if the house in question involves industry lobbyists making lawmakers play "race-to-the-bottom" game theory. The Capital Gazette reported yesterday that legislators removed Frick's "eminent domain" provision from the House of Cards bill, and so Maryland taxpayers will be paying the producers over $18 million to subsidize taping of Season 3 (excerpt below):
CAPITAL GAZETTE: A General Assembly conference committee has done away with a budget provision that would have allowed Maryland to seize the property of the production company for the Netflix television series "House of Cards...."

"House of Cards" is on track to have taken more than $30 million in tax credits through fiscal 2016.... The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1051, which would ramp up funding for the film credit from $7.5 million to $18.5 million....

MARYLAND SECOND CHANCE ACT: A bill to allow nonviolent offenders to shield their records from public view after a few years has passed the House 87-49 and the Senate 43-4. But advocates at the Job Opportunities Task Force were hoping to revive some of the provisions that were amended out during the legislative process (excerpt below):
JOB OPPORTUNITIES TASK FORCE: While we are thrilled that the senate committee listened to all of your calls and emails urging them to resist adopting the harmful amendments from the house bill to the senate bill and pass a clean senate bill, a conviction for theft under $1000 was removed from the list of crimes eligible for shielding.  This means that over 50,000 Marylanders convicted of theft will be unable to shield their record....

SHACKLING OF PREGNANT INMATES : Advocates have been attempting to ban the shackling of pregnant inmates in Maryland in recent sessions. But according to a press release from the ACLU, the bill has finally passed this year (excerpt below):
ACLU: Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland celebrated passage of House Bill 27, the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act, which would impose restrictions on the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery. Delegates Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), and Barbara Robinson (D-Baltimore City), supported by a strong coalition of organizations, introduced HB 27 to ensure that Maryland’s women have protections against this barbaric and dangerous practice. The bill, which passed unanimously, now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley, who will hopefully sign it....

TRANSGENDER NONDISCRIMINATION: We previously reported that an effort to protect transgender residents from discrimination finally passed the Maryland Senate this year. Last week Senate sponsor Rich Madaleno reported that the House of Delegates joined the upper chamber in approving the legislation (excerpt below):
RICH MADALENO: I am thrilled to report that just moments ago, the Maryland House of Delegates passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (Senate Bill 212) by a vote of 82-57.  Since the House passed the Senate bill without amendments, it now heads to Governor O’Malley for final approval.  When he signs this legislation, which I proudly sponsored, Maryland will be the 18th state in the nation – plus Washington, D.C. - to ensure equal civil rights protections for transgender persons....

TAX CUT FOR WEALTHY ESTATES: Liberal advocacy group Progressive Maryland has been fighting a cut to the state's estate tax for the wealthiest residents this year. But the organization reports that the State House and Senate approved the tax cut this session (excerpt below):
PROGRESSIVE MARYLAND: Governor Martin O'Malley must soon decide whether to sign or veto HB 739, one of the General Assembly's most misguided bills to gift Maryland's wealthiest 3% a wholly unwarranted major tax cut at the expense of the rest of us. As Dan Rodrick's recent column in the Baltimore Sun, With Democrats like these, who needs GOP?, explains:
"If Gov. Martin O'Malley signs it into law, the measure would raise the amount of an estate exempt from Maryland's tax from 1 million to nearly 6 million. The new exemption would cost the state more than 100 million in annual revenue by 2019, when it would fully take effect. Over the five-year phase-in, the loss to the state would be an estimated 431 million..."
This bill’s passage through the House and Senate is grossly ironic, given the struggles of so many families and recent disclosure that Maryland's in a budget hole that could place state employee pension funds on the chopping block. Politicians' arguments that Maryland isn’t competitive enough and that wealthy might move away if they don't cut this tax run counter to the facts....

MOCO SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION DOLLARS: Though lawmakers found funding to cut $431 million in taxes for wealthy estates and $18 million for Kevin Spacey's TV show, it appears that Montgomery County is not going to get increased funding for its overcrowded schools. The Gazette reported on the news Friday (excerpt below):
GAZETTE: Maryland has three days left in its legislative session and ... Montgomery County’s top priority for the session appears to be headed nowhere. The session ends at midnight Monday. Montgomery County has been pushing since the outset of the 90-day session in January to establish a dedicated program that would provide the county with school construction funding. As of Thursday, both proposals to do just that are mired in committees with no hope of advancing. Montgomery asked for up to $20 million in extra school construction matching funds from the state by way of either a capital grant or an application program....

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