March 28, 2013

State Roundup, March 28, 2013

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LANDMARK BILLS: With less than two weeks left in the General Assembly’s 90-day session, lawmakers could still pass landmark bills tightening the state’s gun laws, raising gas taxes and legalizing medical marijuana, writes Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette. Here’s a graphic of the major bills still being considered and their chances of passing into law.

GUN CONTROL QUESTIONS: Four weeks after Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun-control bill passed the Senate, a key House committee has yet to schedule a vote and continues to debate whether to scale it back, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. Among the possible changes still on the table: whether to take the AR-15 and a few other assault-style rifles off the list of guns whose sale would be banned.

Aaron Davis of the Post writes that lawmakers from both parties said they were also struggling with whether to go along with the Democratic governor’s proposal to limit the capacity of firearm magazines and clips to 10 bullets.

GUNS & POLITICS: David Moon of Maryland Juice writes that the raging debate over proposed new gun laws in Maryland is quickly becoming a 2014 campaign issue for Democratic Primary candidates. He highlights an editorial from the Post, dated March 22, and an answer to it that appeared in Maryland Juice as liberals from Montgomery County jockey to run for office.

HOUSING BIAS BILL: A bill that would prohibit landlords from screening prospective tenants based on their source of income was sent back to a Maryland Senate committee after three days of floor debate over whether landlords should be allowed to exclude those on public assistance. The 23-22 vote likely dooms the bill this session, writes Ilana Kowarski for MarylandReporter.com.

Alex Jackson writes for the Capital-Gazette that supporters of the legislation said discrimination was forcing a high concentration of Section 8 voucher holders in certain communities. They touted the measure as “civil rights legislation.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, who sponsored the bill, said “This program has been a great success and we want to take it statewide.” He noted that poverty has been deconcentrated where the law is in place. “The landlords are happy with it, the tenants are happy with it.” Eleven states and several Maryland jurisdictions, including Howard and Frederick counties and the cities of Frederick and Annapolis, have a similar law on the books.

DOG BITE BILL: Pat Warren of WJZ-TV reports that Maryland’s House and Senate remain at odds over a dog bite bill intended to neutralize a court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

START SCHOOL LATER: A bill authorizing a study of the effects of later school start times on Maryland public school students is halfway to passage, reports Tim Pratt in the Capital-Gazette. The legislation was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates on Monday. The measure would set up a task force to study delaying the start of classes until at least 8 a.m.

ONLINE SALES TAX: A bill that would have allowed the state to collect sales tax from online retailers, like Amazon and eBay, who sell merchandise from vendors based in Maryland, died in the House Rules Committee, writes Holly Nunn for the Gazette. Del. Sheila Hixson said the proposal is likely to continue to come up every year until the federal government passes legislation to enable states to collect taxes from online sales.

REFERENDUM STANDARD: Senate President Mike Miller told reporters Wednesday that new standards making it more difficult to petition new laws to the ballot are not likely to pass this year, though he agrees that the practice needs to be curtailed, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

SHA OVER BUDGET: The mild winder has made for a smooth commute across Baltimore, but statewide money from road treatment actually went over budget this year. The Maryland State Highway Administration’s budget spent $50 million in 2013 so far, not counting Monday’s snowfall, which is $9 million over budget, reports WBFF-TV .

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PG SCHOOL TAKEOVER: Members of the Prince George’s County Council say they will oppose a bill in Annapolis giving the county executive control of the school system unless the council is given broader power over the education budget, writes Miranda Spivack in the Post.

Center Maryland, in an opinion piece, writes it supports Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s proposal to assume more responsibility for his county’s schools. In several decades of fits and starts on education reform, only increasing executive authority – and accountability – has demonstrated progress in moving struggling school systems forward.

But Josh Kurtz, also writing for Center Maryland, sees Baker’s proposal as another last minute legislative bombshell.

CITY SCHOOLS RENOVATION: The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has unanimously approved a 35-year plan to leverage $60 million a year in public money to pay for nearly $1 billion worth of renovations to Baltimore City schools, writes Alexander Pyles in the Daily Record. The panel voted 13-0 to approve House Bill 860 with just one technical amendment, continuing the legislation’s expedited path toward expected approval.

TAKE HOME CARS: Alison Knezevich of the Sun reports that Baltimore County’s policy of allowing its County Council members to have take-home cars is a rare perk among local governments.