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State lawmakers leave income tax cuts, paid leave behind

Rachel Baye

State lawmakers ended their annual 90-day session by passing major criminal justice reforms and changes to the controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. But several legislators were left thinking about what didn’t make the cut:  income tax cuts and paid sick leave.

At the start of the day Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan said he was pleased that the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly were spending part of their last day debating how big a tax cut they wanted to pass.

By midnight, though, his tune had changed. 

“Tonight was a little disappointing," he said. "This morning all of you and all of us thought we were this close on real, meaningful tax relief, and unfortunately the speaker of the House and the Senate president dropped the ball and failed to get it done.”

At issue was a $250 million income tax cut. The House passed a lower- and middle-income tax break, while the Senate expanded it to small businesses and people earning more than $150,000 annually.

By the time the confetti fell at midnight, negotiations between the two sides had deteriorated.

An effort to require certain Maryland businesses to offer employees paid sick leave also fell apart in the final hours.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said the bill would have hurt businesses the way it was written.

“Look, I’m not against paid sick leave," he said. "It’s just this bill is so overreaching and against the employer.”

But Senate President Mike Miller suggested the fight for both income tax cuts and paid leave might not be over. 

“There is the possibility that the speaker and myself could call the General Assembly for a session for a single day," he said. "There is that possibility to do the tax package and earned sick leave, just those two proposals.”

However, Hogan criticized the notion of calling a special session.

“These guys can’t seem to get their act together," he said. "I’m not sure that would change with a special session.”

A package aimed at increasing police accountability was more successful.

The legislation’s largest hurdle was the question of whether civilians should have a vote in law enforcement disciplinary matters. Ultimately, a compromise determined that each local jurisdiction would decide that itself.

The measure originated from a bipartisan group led by Del. Curt Anderson, a Democrat and the chair of the Baltimore delegation.

“We think that all these things we’ve done hopefully will help ensure that the public has greater trust in the officers and that the officers don’t develop an ‘us versus them’ kind of mentality,” he said.

Another major success for legislators was passing criminal justice reform. The bipartisan effort resulted in a bill that aims to reduce prison populations. It does that by sending more drug offenders to get treatment for their addictions, eliminating certain mandatory minimum sentences and making it easier for offenders to get and remain out on parole.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings committee, said he expects the legislation to save the state money while keeping Marylanders safe.

“It is a gigantic revision of the criminal justice system in many ways,” he said.

On the other hand, Zirkin said a bill aimed at preventing people from driving drunk didn’t go far enough. The measure requires anyone convicted of drunken driving to install an ignition interlock device in their car, preventing them from driving without first passing a Breathalyzer.

But he said he can always try to do more next year.