Election years are always a little tricky for the Maryland General Assembly. On the one hand, there’s likely the temptation to try to resolve some of the more complex and difficult issues legislators face in the final year of the term. On the other hand, asking legislators to try to do that right before they have to face the voters is no mean feat.
Add in redistricting, the prospect of legalizing recreational cannabis and establishing a paid medical leave program, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and the stakes are high in Annapolis as the House of Delegates and State Senate wrap up their first couple weeks of their annual 90-day term. Not to mention one particular quirk of bills passed in an election year: Gubernatorial vetoes can’t be overridden the following term,
With all that in mind, here are some of the top urbanist issues and bills the Maryland General Assembly is likely to take up before the final day of the 2022 legislative session rolls around on April 11.
It’s sort of a transitional year for transit legislation in Maryland. A lot of bigger transit bills that had been gathering steam for years, such as the Transit & Safety Investment Act and the initial funding for the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit Project, finally broke through in 2021. Now with elections coming up, 2023 offers at least the possibility of a fresh start for public transit in the Old Line State after eight years of less than rapturous reception from the state’s current governor.
Still, a closer look at 2022’s crop of transit legislation does reveal a couple recurring themes: buses, electrification, and equity.
Having pushed through legislation last year to convert the MTA’s bus fleet to a mostly electric one, Del. Marc Korman and Sen. Craig Zucker (Both D-Montgomery) are back this session with a follow-up bill requiring training and job protections for MTA staff during the transition to “zero emission” buses. Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore City) has a pair of bills: one to authorize Baltimore City to use a monitoring system to enforce its ban on cars driving in its bus lanes, and the other to authorize its use of speeding and bus lane violation tickets to fund its Complete Streets programs. Another bill, from Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick), incentivizes the State Highway Administration to more frequently designate shoulder areas on the sides of state highways to be used by commuter buses to bypass congestion.
For the second year in a row, Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Nicole Williams (Both D-Prince George’s) are introducing legislation to prohibit the use of state funds on a maglev system. Del. Tony Bridges (D-Baltimore City) has said during a pre-session forum that he plans to introduce legislation to set up a workgroup to figure out how best to go about creating a regional transit authority for Central Maryland. That strategy is an admittedly indirect route towards achieving this increasingly popular goal, but quite possibly the best one available under the current Governor’s administration as it could enable more concrete action under his successor.
Perhaps the most potentially impactful piece of transportation legislation this session could be the “Transportation Equity Act” from Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County), and Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City). That bill, another 2021 resurrection, would require Maryland to consider equity when developing its transportation plans, reports, and goals. That could cover scenarios as disparate as the cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line and seasonal service changes on the MTA’s local bus routes.
Environmental issues, especially those connected to climate change, are set to have a big session in Annapolis this year. Two sets of legislation especially stand out as ones to watch out for in 2022, both slightly reworked versions of bills originally introduced in 2021.
The first is a proposed “climate justice amendment” from Del. Wanika Fisher (D-Prince George’s), which would, if passed by the General Assembly and then approved by voters at the polls this November, guarantee Marylanders the right to a healthy environment — and a legal course of action to enforce that right.
The second is the return of Sen. Paul Pinsky’s tumultuous “Climate Solutions Now” package. First introduced last year as an omnibus bill, this legislation would drastically cut Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade or so (especially in transportation), boost electric vehicles and their associated infrastructure, and tighten green building standards, among other ambitious goals. But a series of very public differences between the House of Delegates and Senate environmental committees as to the exact mechanisms of the bill between Pinsky, the Chair of the Senate Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs Committee, and Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), the chair of the corresponding House Environment & Transportation Committee, bogged down negotiations, and time ran out on the 2021 legislative session (Never let anyone tell you the biggest political rivalry in Maryland is between Democrats and Republicans. It’s the House of Delegates vs. the Senate and everyone knows it).
After several more months of negotiations though, Pinsky and Barve have repeatedlyreassured environmental advocates that they’ve resolved their differences and are ready to give Climate Solutions Now another go, albeit with a somewhat unusual strategy. Once again, Pinsky will introduce his version of the package in a single omnibus bill. But this time, Barve will break the House version of the package into smaller chunks and work on getting each of those chunks through the lower chamber. It’s an unorthodox strategy to be sure but something similar did work to repeal Maryland’s infamous Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights last year — so clearly there’s some method to this madness.
Much like last year, Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) figures to play a prominent part in the General Assembly’s housing conversation. The third edition of his “Tenant Protection Act” would require landlords to give tenants greater transparency on utility billing, allow tenant organizations space to meet, and strengthen rent protections for victims of stalking.
Another area to watch: The General Assembly passed legislation in 2021 to provide a legal right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction, but not any legislation to fund that counsel. Look for that quest to be a top priority for housing advocates in 2022.
Other urbanist issues likely to pop up before the General Assembly adjourns include how to deal with Maryland’s increasingly under-maintained and overcrowded state parks (A recent report from a state commission headed by former Gov. Parris Glendening suggests, among other recommendations, establishing an MTA pilot program to provide more bus access to state parks during the summer).