In my most recent commentary, I suggested two issues were almost certain to be the focus of great attention in the 2024 Maryland General Assembly session: funding for transportation and funding for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future also known as the Blueprint Law or the Kirwan Plan.
Based on the latest news reports, I have scaled back my previous suggestion.
On the issue of Kirwan, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has stated MACo’s position as, “The goal is not to go back and legislate the Blueprint law, but to inform lawmakers and the public of the continuing challenges to funding the Blueprint on a local level.”
On the issue of transportation funding, recommendations in Maryland’s Commission on Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs (TRAIN) interim report include registration fees for electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, higher registration fees on all vehicles and higher toll rates for out of state EZ Pass holders.
State Senator Guy Guzzone, the Chair of the Senate Budget and Finance Committee responded by saying “It is unrealistic for the legislature to return in January to bridge the chasm in the transportation budget. There are some significant hurdles. Lawmakers will discuss all options in the coming session before ruling anything out.”
State Senator Steve Hershey, Senate Republican Floor Leader, responded with expressing concerns about charging higher tolls for out-of-state EZ Pass holders drivers. He said: “We have seen other states not be able to do the same thing, to put forth a recommendation that will probably be challenged in court as a means of trying to solve this problem, I don’t think that was appropriate.”
Any sense of urgency on decisions on transportation funding options is lessened by the fact that the final TRAIN Commission report is not due until January 2025.
There is one other high-profile issue that may be the focus of attention next year: revisions to the Juvenile Justice Reform and Child Interrogation Protection Act.
Changes to this law are a deep interest to a wide range of elected and appointed county officials in Maryland. So much so, changes were the topic at two sessions at the recent Maryland Association of Counties winter meeting.
Changes to this law are also a deep interest of The Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, and The Maryland Sheriff’s Association.
Last, but not least, the Republican caucus in Maryland’s House of Delegates and a Democratic State Senator is working with two Republican State Senators in proposing legislation on this issue.
Despite that level of deep interest, key State Senators are saying … not so fast.
State Senator Jill Carter has said, “Before we look at any potential revisions, or before we look at any tweaks, we need to ensure that everybody understands the law and is interpreting it accurately. I think that if there was one flaw, it was the lack of education to all of the agencies throughout the state as to how they would perform under the law, and that has bred confusion.”
State Senator Will Smith, Chair of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, said recently, he does not believe lawmakers will repeal the act. He does believe lawmakers will make some “tweaks”. He did not say when.
State Senate President Bill Ferguson has also said “The legislature may make some tweaks.” But in terms of timing, he says “We have to find a way to fix the system [the juvenile justice system]. Changing the law is a piece of that equation, but if we don’t have executive coordination that’s going to help fix the problem, it doesn’t matter what laws are on the books right now.” In what could be read as a shot across the bow to the Moore administration, President Ferguson said, “There should be a greater sense of urgency from the executive branch to intervene to ensure kids move through the juvenile justice system.”
While anything can happen on any issue at any time until midnight on the last day of any General Assembly Session, I now suggest that when all is said and done in the 2024 session on the issues of juvenile justice, transportation funding and Kirwan funding, much may be said, but very little, if anything, will be done.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters.