The 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly began officially in mid-January and is now in full swing. After Assembly’s prompt override of five bills vetoed by the Governor in 2015, we are now expecting a blizzard of new bills. This year, following the completion in 2015 of the freshman year of many new legislators in Annapolis, we are going to see a huge bump in the number of bills that will be introduced in 2016. New legislators, as well as the veterans, wish to make their mark on the Maryland Annotated Code. The deadline for legislators to timely introduce their bills is rapidly approaching.
As is true every year, much of the Assembly’s energy will be taken up with considering the Governor’s budget, and this year, our representatives will spend significant time dealing with the Governor’s agenda on taxes – essentially wrangling over which group should receive tax breaks under the Governor’s plan. Some other expected hot topics will deal with reform of the criminal justice system in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore last year, end of life decisions, and changes in voting eligibility requirements.
Advocates in the domestic violence arena will be seeking change in the definition of stalking. HB 155 and SB 278, bills cross-filed in both the House and Senate, alter the definition of stalking as a course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another where the person intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress. Under current law, the State must prove that the course of conduct is malicious and would place another in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury, assault, rape or sexual offenses, false imprisonment, or death. By including serious emotional distress, the proposed bill goes to the essence of what many stalkers wish to achieve with their anti-social behaviors toward their victims.
As the 2016 session progresses, we will soon see a clearing of the blizzard of bills as hearings are scheduled, Committees vote, and bills wind their way through the Assembly. As is traditional, most of these bills will not ultimately be enacted into law, but it will be interesting to see which bills do in fact survive the storm.