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Climate Change Bills Failed In Shortened Maryland Session

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — While Maryland lawmakers pushed through major education policy in a session shortened by concerns about the coronavirus, some high-profile measures aimed at addressing climate change and other environmental measures were among the bills that failed to pass.

Lawmakers worked quickly to pass priority measures and adjourned at 5 p.m. Wednesday, but they lost the final 19 days of their annual 90-day session, a period when legislators put a lot of finishing touches on legislation. Environmentalists are hoping climate change legislation will be revisited when lawmakers reconvene for a planned special session in late May.

One of measures is an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. It would increase the state's current goal of cutting emissions by 40%, based on 2006 levels. The Climate Solutions Act of 2020 also would set the state on a path toward achieving net-zero statewide emissions by 2045.

"We're asking legislative leadership, when it's safe to gather again to do the peoples' work, that really climate change and addressing the climate crisis should be at the top of the agenda," said Steven Hershkowitz, the Maryland director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

A measure to stop Maryland's Conowingo Dam settlement with Exelon also failed to pass. In October, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a settlement with the company that runs the dam to invest in environmental projects, but opponents sought to block the Maryland Department of the Environment from waiving water quality certifications under the deal.

A measure to ban plastic bags in the state died as well.

Lawmakers also did not pass a measure to define in the law how the wrongly convicted would be compensated for time they spent in prison. In October, the state's Board of Public Works approved paying $9 million to five wrongly convicted men. It was the first time in 15 years such compensation was granted. Earlier this month, the board approved paying $8.7 million to three men who were wrongly imprisoned for more than 35 years each for a murder they didn't commit.

A revised version of Hogan's Violent Firearms Offender Act passed the Senate to create stronger penalties for people who commit violent crimes with guns, but without mandatory minimum sentences. The measure stalled in the House. Still, the General Assembly approved steering $12 million in added law enforcement to Baltimore and increased parole and probation oversight.

Hogan's proposal to cut state income taxes for retirees also stalled.

A measure to end the statute of limitations in civil cases relating to child sexual abuse and create a two-year window for people who have been abused to pursue civil cases did not advance in the Senate, after the House voted 127-0 for the bill.

While lawmakers approved a $1.75 increase in the tobacco tax, a measure to ban flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, died.

The General Assembly also approved putting sports betting on the ballot in November for voters to decide, but they stripped out provisions saying where sports betting would be allowed, including the state's casinos and at a new Washington Redskins stadium or a renovated FedEx Field, leaving those decisions to be made later, if voters approve. A disparity study will be done to examine whether minorities face a disadvantage taking part in the industry.
(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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