ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers approved a bill on Friday that will put a question about state education funding on the November ballot.
The education “lockbox” bill passed the House of Delegates by a near unanimous vote Friday evening; the measure passed the Senate unanimously earlier this session.
Senate Bill 1122, a constitutional amendment that must be approved by voters, would direct about half a billion dollars in gambling revenue to increase education funding.
If approved, it will guarantee that any casino gambling revenue raised into the Education Trust Fund must be directly sent to schools above and beyond the levels required by formula funding for public schools from the state’s general fund. Education advocates say the state promised increased education funding when casino gambling was approved, but the revenue has instead been used to plug other holes in the budget to the tune of $1.9 billion since 2009.
Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, cheered the bill’s passage Friday night.
“Education funding should not be a partisan issue and educators are heartened by the overwhelming vote in the General Assembly to make good on broken promises and set a different path for education funding in the years ahead,” Weller said in a statement. “The decade following the Great Recession has seen Maryland public schools slip in national rankings, lose talented educators to other states and professions, cram students into classes of 40 or more, and make other sacrifices to educational quality. Educators will not accept this shortchanging of education any longer.”
The bill heads to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who put forward his own bill this session to establish a lockbox fund in a different way.
Lawmakers also moved forward a bill that will change sexual harassment policies and training in Annapolis. House Bill 1342 passed the Senate unanimously.
The Senate version of the bill says that taxpayer money can’t be used to settle harassment or discrimination claims against lawmakers and other officials. The bill also requires harassment and discrimination claims made to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics to be referred to an independent investigator, unless the person filing the complaint objects.
New policies against sexual harassment and discrimination and new training requirements in the bill apply to lawmakers, state officials and registered lobbyists.
The House and Senate still have to reconcile their versions of the bill before the legislative session ends at midnight Monday.
House Bill 1302, a so-called red-flag bill that would allow for “extreme risk protection orders” to temporarily remove guns from people exhibiting dangerous behaviors, was passed with amendments in the Senate on Friday. Versions of the House and Senate bill will have to be reconciled Monday.
House Bill 42, a bill that would increase penalties for using a cellphone while driving, was passed by the Senate on Friday. The Senate version of the bill imposes a penalty of up to $250 for using a phone while driving and includes a 1-point license penalty for subsequent offenses. The bill is proactive and would not apply to offenses ticketed before Oct. 1, when the bill would take effect if passed. The House of Delegates passed a bill with a $500 penalty earlier this session by a small margin, 77-59.
A conference committee continued work on Friday to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill to reform Maryland’s medical cannabis industry.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 282 by a 36-8 vote on Friday. The measure includes an amendment from Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4) that removes trash incinerators from the state’s renewable energy portfolio. It faces long odds of passing through the House of Delegates with just three days left in the General Assembly session.
Hough attempted to stymie a different bill in the Senate on Friday, House Bill 180, which would require a minimum of two crew members for freight trains. Hough said the bill will adversely affect CSX, which has tracks that run through Frederick County, including those that carry MARC commuter trains.
The bill’s proponents say it will increase safety for trains that can stretch 2 miles long and weigh tens of thousands of tons.
CSX has opposed the bill for three years, arguing that an additional crew member would not improve safety. The company also testified this year that increased costs could harm state negotiations for continued commuter train access to the tracks.
A lengthy debate and amendment efforts by several Republicans were not enough to stall the bill’s progress on Friday; it could see final passage on Monday.
Hough said he believes Hogan would veto the measure if it’s passed; Hogan’s office did not say how the governor may act on the bill, just that he will carefully consider each of the hundreds of bills that lawmakers send to his desk.
As of Friday evening, nearly 600 bills have received approval from both chambers.