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Maryland lawmakers focus on bridge collapse relief as legislative session closes

Maryland lawmakers on Monday entered the final hours of the state's legislative session, primarily focusing on priority legislation addressing the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

Maryland lawmakers pushed into the final hours of their legislative session Monday, largely putting the finishing touches on priority legislation that includes a measure to help employees at the Port of Baltimore affected by the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

The measure authorizing use of the state’s rainy day fund to help port employees has strong support and was expected to pass. The stunning March 26 bridge collapse and its impact on a key economic engine prompted lawmakers to act in the last two weeks of the session.

"One of our top priorities for Sine Die is to pass the PORT Act to assist all who have been impacted by the collapse of the Key Bridge," Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a statement, referring to the Latin phrase used for the last day of the session. "Our members have important bills that still need to get across the finish line, so I’m looking forward to a productive last day."


A measure to rebuild Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, home of the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, remained before lawmakers, who face a midnight deadline for adjournment.

For the most part, lawmakers have either passed priority measures to Gov. Wes Moore, or moved them into place for fine-tuning before sending them to the governor on Monday.

"We’re proud of the fact that we as an administration and we as a state have been able to respond to the crisis of the Key Bridge, while also not losing sight that we have an aggressive legislative package that we have to get across the finish line, and we’re proud of the results," Moore told reporters early Monday afternoon.

The governor also said he believed the measure to rebuild Pimlico was important.

"We think it’s important to not just make sure that we’re protecting an industry that means a lot to this state, not just in terms of its history but in terms of its future, but also this is an important bill for the community," Moore said.

Public safety measures were acted on this session, with some high-profile ones already approved by the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. Measures to protect officials, like judges and elections officials, have already been sent to Moore, a Democrat.

Under one measure, Maryland judges would be able to shield personal information online to prevent hostile people from tracking them down. The Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson Judicial Security Act is named for the judge who was fatally shot by a man in October just hours after Wilkinson ruled against him in a divorce case.

Lawmakers also already approved a bill proposed by Moore to enable authorities to prosecute people who threaten to harm election officials or their immediate family members, as threats against elections officials are on the rise across the country in a major election year.

The governor’s legislative agenda was either already greenlighted or on track to final passage. Moore appeared in person earlier in the session to testify in support of measures aimed at making housing more affordable and protecting renters, telling lawmakers that Maryland is facing "a true housing crisis," largely due to a lack of housing supply.

Moore, who previously served as the CEO of one of the nation’s largest poverty-fighting organizations, also came before lawmakers in support of legislation addressing child poverty.

On Friday, lawmakers gave final passage to juvenile justice reforms aimed at improving accountability and rehabilitation in response to complaints about increasing crimes like auto theft and handgun violations.

One key provision would bring children ages 10, 11 and 12 into the juvenile justice system for handgun violations, third-degree sex offenses and aggravated animal abuse. For auto thefts, children of those ages would go through the Child in Need of Services process, in which a judge can order treatment and services, but youths would not be incarcerated.

The measure also creates greater oversight of personnel with a new commission, and greater documentation is required when youths are detained.

The Pimlico measure appeared to be facing uncertain prospects down the stretch. The measure, introduced late in the session, would use $400 million in state bonds to reconstruct the home of the Preakness Stakes. The House passed the bill 104-34 this month, and the measure is now in the Senate. The Senate president told reporters Friday "I have every confidence in the world that we have the right people making decisions, and we’ll get to the right place in the next 72 hours."

Lawmakers gave final approval to the state's $63 billion budget on Friday, agreeing to some tax and fee increases to help pay for education and transportation. Still, the revenue increases were less than some lawmakers had hoped for, deferring discussion of how to find larger revenues to the next session that starts in January.

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