January 7, 2013

State Roundup, January 7, 2012

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HOT BUTTON ISSUES: As the General Assembly session opens this week, write Erin Cox and Michael Dresser of the Sun, Gov. Martin O’Malley and legislative leaders are weighing what to do about the re-emerging issues of gun control and the death penalty as well as a recurring question of how to pay for roads and mass transit.

Lawmakers from Frederick County predict the three months of lawmaking set to kick off Wednesday will be more subdued than last year, reports Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News Post. But a heavy mix of issues is brewing, as state senators and delegates gear up to consider bans on synthetic marijuana, address transportation funding shortages and examine new firearms restrictions.

Josh Bollinger, writing for the Easton Star-Democrat, reports that Sen. Richard Colburn said it wouldn’t be surprising if gun laws are introduced in every state this year. Speaking at the same event, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said the Senate will have to take the fiscal cliff into consideration when formulating the state budget.

Washington County legislators said this year’s session likely will be dominated by gun-related bills and they also said they will keep an eye on any possible effort to increase the gasoline tax and any other proposed tax increases, writes Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

The Carroll County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly will bring a mixed bag of bills, reports Christian Alexandersen of the Carroll County Times. On the controversial side, Del. Nancy Stocksdale plans to submit a bill requiring people receiving state assistance pass a drug test to continue receiving it. On the other side, Sen. Allan Kittleman ill submit legislation to help school systems save money on construction costs.

For Del. Pam Beidle, an important clarification in the law on scooters comes down to the addition of one word. Valid. She pre-filed legislation seeking to add the word to the state’s motor vehicles transportation code requiring drivers of scooters and mopeds to have a “valid license or operator’s permit” when operating the vehicle, writes Sara Blumberg of the Capital-Gazette.

Support also is growing among state lawmakers for reforms to the state’s speed camera law, Liz Essley reports for the Washington Examiner. The effort comes after a Baltimore Sun investigation found widespread problems with that city’s speed camera program, including cameras issuing tickets to cars that weren’t speeding — or in one case, not even moving.

GAS TAX & TRANSPORTATION FUNDS: Aaron Davis of the Post reports that a Friday meeting of Maryland legislative leaders and county officials ended in an unusually testy exchange, revealing how difficult it could be for the General Assembly to reach agreement this year on one of its biggest pieces of unfinished business from 2012: A gas-tax increase or other revenue plan to replenish the state’s nearly bankrupt transportation trust fund.

MAKING POINTS, NOT FRIENDS: House Speaker Michael Busch brings his PowerPoint presentation to MACo to try to change perceptions by hostile Republican and Democratic officials that the state is aiding itself at the expense of the counties, reports Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

DEATH PENALTY EVENT: A core of Democratic Party members in Baltimore County appear to support death penalty repeal and are hosting an event with a Maryland death row survivor in Towson on Tuesday, Jan. 8th, blogs David Moon of Maryland Juice.

HUNTING LICENSE HIKE: A bill that would increase the cost of a hunting license for an adult Maryland resident by $20 and help the financially strapped Wildlife & Heritage Service will be introduced at the General Assembly, reports Michael Sawyers in the Cumberland Times-News. The bill, which does not yet have a number, would raise the cost from $24.50 to $44.50 for hunters ages 16 to 64.

OPINIONATORS WEIGH IN: While much was accomplished from last year’s legislative sessions, there is still much to be done this year as well, including gun control and the death penalty, opines the editorial board for the Capital Gazette.

Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes that thanks to the progressive votes in November, it is time for legislators to take the progressive step and eliminate the barbaric punishment of the death penalty — regardless of fear of voter backlash.

O’M GETS GO-AHEAD IN ALSTON REPLACEMENT: In the Post, Matt Zapotosky reports that Maryland’s highest court has confirmed that ousted state Del. Tiffany Alston will not get her position back and gave Gov. O’Malley broad power to fill the vacancy. And now, the political jockeying is just beginning.

BROWN SETS A COURSE: The Capital-Gazette names Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown one of its 13 Newsmakers for 2013. As Gov. O’Malley prepares to run for the White House, writes Earl Kelly, Brown has to step in to show his leadership skills while not stepping on O’Malley’s toes.

CURRIE TO RUN: State Sen. Ulysses Currie, the Prince George’s Democrat who was the subject of a lengthy ethics inquiry that resulted in a censure by his colleagues and a $10,000 penalty, told John Wagner of the Post that he plans to seek re-election next year.

HARRIS VOTES NO ON AID: Eastern Shore Congressman Andy Harris has voted against the House’s $9.7 billion aid package that was aimed at helping the mid-Atlantic region recover from the behemoth hurricane that hit in October, writes Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times. It passed the house with a vote of 354-67, with all the “no” votes from Republicans.

MARYLANDERS & THE FISCAL CLIFF: For better and for worse, Marylanders may be more affected by the fiscal cliff tax deal than residents in other parts of the country, writes Eileen Ambrose of the Sun. Maryland is one of the wealthiest states, and its residents have the nation’s highest median income. That means they likely will feel the impact of a higher income tax rate on the rich as well as a phase-out of deductions on the not-quite-so-rich. On the other hand, many well-to-do households here will benefit from an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption from federal estate taxes.

The Carroll County Times editorial board opines that while the last-minute deal by Congress may have protected us from the worst impact of the so-called fiscal cliff, Maryland lawmakers returning to Annapolis this week need to keep a close eye on upcoming federal issues as they consider policies and proposals for this year.