Other Limitations on the General Assembly’s Legislative Authority


In Article III of the Maryland Constitution, entitled “Legislative Department” and which includes most of the provisions relating to the General Assembly, there are additional restrictions or prohibitions on the kinds of legislative action that can be taken by the General Assembly.  Some of them relate to the broad issues of the control of the State budget as between the Governor and the legislature and to what extent the State may incur debt through legislation.  Others relate to how legislative bills are to be crafted and the limits of what can be included in bills (that is, bills cannot cover more than one subject,  be amended by reference to its title or section of the Annotated Code, or grant powers or confer rights that are not expressly contained in the body of the bill).  Still others relate to prohibitions on legislation that would violate the home rule authority of counties with certain forms of local government or that would create special laws (that is, laws that would grant divorces, change the names of individuals, provide for the sale of real property, give effect to deeds or wills, refund money paid into the State Treasury, or otherwise be considered private acts for the relief of specifically named parties). 


As to control of the State operating budget, the General Assembly, in acting on the annual budget bill submitted by the Governor, can only reduce funding allocated for items that pertain to the Executive Branch officers, officials, departments, agencies, and other units.  Even if it wanted to submit its own State operating budget for consideration, the legislature has no authority in the Constitution to create a separate State operating budget for introduction that would have the same legal standing as the budget submitted annually by the Governor.


As for the creation of State debt that obligates the repayment of the principal and interest on that debt, the General Assembly is prohibited from incurring any debt unless it is authorized by a bill that provides for the collection of an annual tax sufficient to cover the repayment of the principal and interest on the debt.


Also under Article III of the Constitution, the legislature is restricted from passing legislation that increases the salary of public officers and officials during their term of office, and it is prohibited from passing any law that suspends the privilege of habeas corpus.


Most significantly, the General Assembly is prohibited by provisions in Article III from passing legislation that would authorize the taking of private property for public use without just compensation, as agreed to between the parties or awarded by a jury, first being paid to the property owner.


Finally, the legislature is limited by the United States Constitution (that is, the General Assembly cannot pass any legislation that would interfere with interstate contracts, impair existing contracts, declare war, or otherwise exercise powers specifically prohibited in the federal Constitution or reserved to the United States Congress) and by federal law (that is, in areas in which the United States government has complete and exclusive control or preemption, such as the postal service and  the regulation of broadcasting communications).


Note:  The material in the discussion of Legislative Bill Drafting relating to the origins of legislative drafting and the historical development of bills in England before the establishment of the Maryland colony was derived or taken directly from portions of The General Assembly of Maryland – 1634 – 1776 by Carl N. Everstine, published in 1980 by the Michie Company in Charlottesville, Virginia.