March 22, 2013

State Roundup, March 22, 2013

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GAS TAX: Maryland motorists could expect to pay roughly another 13 to 20 cents per gallon of gas by mid-2016 under a transportation funding bill that has quickly gained momentum in the House of Delegates and could pass on Friday, writes John Wagner of the Post.

Gazette columnist Blair Lee analyzes what he calls the largest tax hike of the 32 increases passed during Martin O’Malley’s tenure: the 86% gas tax hike.

GUN CONTROL: With a committee vote on the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 expected by early next week, members of the House Judiciary Committee say they’re weighing changes to the bill’s assault weapons provision that would ban semiautomatic rifles not by name, but by features common to the guns, Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette reports.

With Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control bill apparently in danger of being watered down by a House of Delegates committee, O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown are imploring voters to call their delegates to urge approval of legislation that contains what would be some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, writes Alexander Pyles for the Daily Record.

HANDGUN PERMITTING LAW UPHELD:  Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette also reports that a federal appeals court has declared Maryland’s handgun permitting law, which requires applicants to show “good and substantial reason” to obtain a permit, is constitutional.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler lauded the decision, writes the AP’s Larry O’Dell in the Cumberland Times-News. “Today’s ruling reaffirms the considered view of the General Assembly that carrying handguns in public without a good and substantial reason poses unique safety risks that the state may address through sensible laws,” Gansler said.

But the plaintiff in the case, Raymond Woollard, had argued that the state violated the Constitution when it denied renewal of his permit because he could not provide documents to “verify a threat beyond his residence,” writes David Hill for the Washington Times.

TRADITION WITH GUNS: Heather Rawlyk of the Capital-Gazette profiles an Annapolis family who cherishes its long history for gun ownership and hunting and worries about keeping that history alive amid changes to the state’s gun laws.

ANTI-ABORTION BILLS: Maryland does not know its teen pregnancy rate because it does not track abortion statistics. That confounds Nancy Paltell, associate director for Respect Life at the Maryland Catholic Conference. Paltell addressed the issue March 20 in testimony before the Maryland Senate finance committee, writes Maria Wiering for the Catholic Review. The committee heard arguments on three abortion-related bills – one to require abortion statistic reporting; one to make abortion illegal after 20 weeks; and another to require abortion-providers to make available an ultrasound for patients seeking an abortion.

MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT EXPANSION: Expanding on last year’s Maintenance of Effort requirements mandating counties’ levels of funding for K-12 education, Montgomery County senators are seeking to establish similar requirements for county critical services throughout the state. Representatives of county governments think it’s a bad idea, writes Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE DIES: A bill to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour died in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, defeated in an 8-3 vote with several senators explaining that they opposed the legislation in spite of their sympathy for low-wage workers because the timing was not right for a wage increase, writes Ilana Kowarski for MarylandReporter.com.

Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM hosts a business panel discussion on the death of the minimum wage.

SPAY-NEUTER FUND: Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner reports that the Maryland Senate passed a bill Thursday that would help reduce the state’s exploding pet population by creating a fund to pay for the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs, though opponents worry it puts the burden of that payment on small businesses.

Save the date adCAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: A major campaign finance reform bill cleared the House of Delegates Thursday, and a Senate version of the bill is now being considered in committee, reports Ilana Kowarski for MarylandReporter.com. The bill would increase campaign contribution limits and stiffen penalties for those who fail to disclose their contributions. It was unanimously passed by the House of Delegates.

DISTRACTED DRIVING: According to an AP story in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a measure Thursday to strengthen laws against distracted driving. The House voted 106-29 to make talking on a handheld cellphone while driving a primary offense. That means a police officer could pull a driver over if observed talking on a cellphone.

SOCIAL MEDIA PRIVACY BILL: A bill that would bar school officials from demanding access to student social media accounts passed the state Senate on Thursday with a unanimous vote, Bethany Rodgers writes for the Frederick News-Post.

BAKER ED TAKEOVER MOVES TO SENATE: A bill allowing Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker to take over the county school system moved from the Maryland House to the Senate on Thursday, bringing the controversial proposal one step closer to a final decision as the legislative session winds down, writes Matt Connolly for the Washington Examiner.

Various groups plan to rally for Saturday’s House hearing on the proposal by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker to put the school system directly under his control, writes Jamie Afenson-Comeau in the Gazette.

HO CO STORMWATER FEE: If the Howard County Council again tables legislation on a state mandated stormwater fee, it may put it one year behind in meeting its stormwater mandates, but isn’t expected to bring a penalty from the state, writes Blair Ames for the Howard County Times.

DINO PARTY SWITCH? Del. Don Dwyer said in an email to his Republican colleagues in the State House that he is mulling a change of party to help save the Democratic Party and rid it of the “hard left liberals,” Rick Hutzell reports for the Capital-Gazette. According to a website for the Freestate DINOs, members of the campaign are urging Republicans to switch parties to vote in the Democratic primaries in what Dwyer predicted would be a “devastating blow” to Democratic strongholds.

2nd SIMONAIRE IN STATE HOUSE? The daughter of state Sen. Bryan Simonaire is considering a run for a District 31 seat in the House of Delegates in 2014. Meagan Simonaire announced in a press release late Thursday she is creating an exploratory committee in the wake of rumors that Del. Steve Schuh could be running for county executive and Del. Don Dwyer’s possible desire to switch to the Democratic Party, Alex Jackson reports in the Capital-Gazette.

TUBMAN MONUMENT: President Barack Obama will sign a proclamation Monday creating a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument on the Eastern Shore, a designation long sought by advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, reports John Fritze for the Sun.

REFERENDUM BILLS: Legislation changing requirements for petitions have yet to move out of committees, meaning the same rules could apply this year to potential referendum drives on the death penalty and gun control as brought three measures to the ballot last year, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on Marvin Mandel; hot bills; Mike Busch’s shoes; and non-native intruders.