- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday braced for challenging tax and health care matters posed by last month’s federal tax overhaul, as they gathered for their annual 90-day legislative session.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller warned his colleagues that the tax plan “is going to cause us fits.”

“This is going to be one of the most contentious sessions you’re ever going to have to deal with, because we have 90 days to deal with these very weighty issues that have been passed down from the federal government on us,” Miller, a Democrat, said, adding they will need to find “an equitable” Maryland solution.

While most residents will see their federal tax bills drop, many are expected to see their state taxes go up. That’s due to the loss of exemptions in the federal tax overhaul approved last month. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has estimated the state will generate hundreds of millions in extra tax revenue. He says he will propose legislation to return that money to taxpayers.

“On the taxes, hopefully we will work together with the folks on the other side of the aisle and protect lower-income and middle-income Marylanders from getting tax hikes,” Hogan said during the 15th Annual Maryland Summit, sponsored by The Daily Record and the Marc Steiner Show early Wednesday morning.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate minority leader, predicted tough wrangling.

“It’s going to be some hard times down here fighting through these, but my goal is to give Maryland taxpayers the tax cut that Congress pushed for,” Jennings, a Republican, said.

Lawmakers also will be grappling with another part of the federal tax overhaul: the gutting of the individual mandate in the federal health care law, which critics say threatens to destabilize Maryland’s individual insurance market.

House Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat, noted that Maryland stands to be hit harder than most states by the federal law. Analysts are still studying the full impact.

The speaker, governor and Senate president all noted that the federal government failed to act to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, raising the possibility that Maryland may need to act on its own, if the federal government doesn’t, to prevent about 142,000 children from losing health insurance.

More fallout, partly from the nation’s capital, stems from the wave of allegations of sexual harassment against national political and media figures, as well as in the entertainment industry. The speaker and the Senate president say they will form a commission to study ways to better address sexual harassment concerns.

Lawmakers are expected to act swiftly to allow more licenses to grow medical marijuana to boost diversity with minority-owned businesses, after a bill to do that died in the final moments of last year’s session.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said she was confident legislation would pass this month.

In other leftover business, the Democrat-controlled legislature is also expected to move swiftly to override Hogan’s veto of last year’s legislation to require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five earned days of paid sick leave. The Senate passed the bill with 29 votes last year, the bare minimum needed to override Hogan’s veto. Both chambers would need a three-fifths vote to override the veto. The measure would take effect 30 days after the veto override, which could happen in the early days of the session.

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