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Back At It Again: Maryland Legislative Session Begins

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- The 2014 legislative session is officially underway in Annapolis. Lawmakers will have plenty on their plates to debate this year.

Derek Valcourt has more on what topics will be dominating their time.

Democrats remain united on some big issues like raising the minimum wage. Republicans know they are facing some uphill battles in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

After months away from the State House, lawmakers are ready to get back to work.

"So, 90 days, and it begins today," the governor said.

An increase in the minimum wage is the top priority for Democrats. But expect the real debate to be centered around how much it will increase.

"It's going to pass. The question is... does it pass in any way near the form it passed in Prince George's and Montgomery County?" said Senate President Mike Miller.

Some worry too high of an increase will negatively affect more rural areas like Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore where cost of living isn't as expensive.

"We're going to work with the General Assembly," said Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. "As you mentioned, there are a number of proposals, different numbers. So, we've got to make sure we get a number that works for everybody."

Many Republicans oppose an increase.

"They got the votes to burn this building if they want, so they are going to put it through because it looks good," said Del. Mike Smigiel, (R) Eastern Shore. "But it will achieve nothing except chasing people out of Maryland--the businesses--and put more people on the unemployment rolls. That's all it's going to do."

While minimum wage may be the important issue for many lawmakers this year, it's far from the only one.

Another hot topic: legalizing marijuana--the way Colorado and Washington have.

The governor's opposition and the recent passage of medicinal marijuana laws in Maryland make full legalization this year unlikely, but the issue has gained momentum.

"If we take it over the way that we've regulated liquor and alcohol, we've got a much better chance at educating the kids and keeping marijuana away from the kids. But right now, it's futile and it's hopeless," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, (D) Montgomery County.

The botched health care rollout will get some attention from Democrats trying to fix it and Republicans unhappy with it.

"We are asking the General Assembly to extend an existing program to individuals who, through no fault of their own, tried to sign up, weren't able to sign up and may be facing big medical costs in the month of January," Governor Martin O'Malley said.

"What we need is a forensic audit of the Maryland health exchange. We need to know how much money was spent, where was it spent and who's going to take responsibility for the debacle that it really is," said Del. Kathy Szeliga, (R) Baltimore County.

Republicans will try to repeal the so-called rain tax and say it's time to cut income taxes for all Marylanders by 10 percent.

Brown, who is running for governor, will help lead the charge to extend universal Pre-K for all 4-year-olds. The big challenge for the General Assembly now will be trying to figure out how to pay for that.

Once again, lawmakers will also try to reach a compromise on pit bulls, as they try to reverse a ruling from the state's highest court that labeled the dogs as "inherently dangerous."

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