Public safety, taxes and continuing to assist state residents and businesses recover from the pandemic were among key issues that elected state leaders and a senior advisor to Governor Larry Hogan discussed during the Greater Baltimore Committee’s 2022 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Forum, held virtually on January 24.

Panelists for the event included: Senator William C. Smith, Jr., Chair, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee; Senator Chris West, Member, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee; Delegate Stephanie M. Smith, Chair, Baltimore City Delegation; Delegate Haven Shoemaker, House Minority Whip; Delegate C.T. Wilson, Chair, Economic Matters Committee and Keiffer Mitchell, Governor Larry Hogan’s Chief Legislative Officer and Senior Advisor. Jeff Salkin of Maryland Public Television served as moderator.

Mitchell said the Governor has submitted to legislative leaders a “robust legislative package,” which includes proposals for redistricting, public safety and tax relief directed to retirees living in Maryland. Specific legislation from the Governor to be considered during the 2022 legislative session, he said, includes the Repeat Firearms Offenders Act, which would increase penalties for firearm convictions, the Judicial Transparency Act, which would track and publish judicial sentencing statewide, and the Refund the Police Act, which would provide additional state funding to police departments to fight crime.

Also the Governor plans to submit a bill to cut state taxes for retirees and another bill which would codify a pandemic relief initiative targeted to small business and commercial property owners to revitalize retail and other vacant space, Mitchell said.

Senator Smith noted that a key issue he will be working on during the session involves “ghost guns,” which are guns that can be assembled from unregistered parts ordered online. He noted that between 2016 and 2019 there were more than 12,000 such gun kits shipped to the state. Baltimore City Police, he said, have seen a 300% increase in the number of such guns recovered on the street since 2019.

Juvenile justice reform will be another major issue in the session, Senator Smith said, with a focus on debating when juveniles should be charged as adults.

Senator West said a key issue for the legislature this year will be how to manage the large budget surplus the state has, due in part to federal pandemic relief funding.

He said he thinks the most important step Maryland can take with the surplus is to provide state retirees with tax relief. The Senator also said some of the police reform bills passed last year have not benefitted addressing crime statewide and hurt police morale. These, he said, should be given another look for revisions, though that may have to wait until 2023 as 2022 is an election year.

Another key issue, he said, will be legislation to help Maryland manufacturers invest in digital technologies so they can compete in the global digital era.

Delegate Smith said issues related to public safety are at the “forefront” of concerns she has heard from the businesses and residents she represents in Baltimore city. She said one area of focus during the session will be ensuring that public safety agencies at all levels are adequately staffed to address crime.

Two priorities for the Baltimore delegation this session, she said, would be: addressing the need for jobs and support services for those returning to society from incarceration so they do not return to crime; and education, given the gaps in digital access and literacy that the pandemic has brought to light.

Delegate Wilson said one priority this year will be “bolstering” Covid-19 protections for essential workers while also ensuring regulations do not overburden small businesses. He said he also plans to focus on improving an “antiquated” state procurement system so that more minority and women businesses are aware of opportunities to bid on.

Delegate Shoemaker said GOP legislators will be offering a “robust package” of bills, among them legislation to address education, crime, tax relief, including for relief for retirees to keep them from moving out of the state. He said GOP legislators also want to address “government overreach,” which he believes is negatively impacting businesses.