April 1, 2013

State Roundup, April 1, 2013

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GAS TAX HIKE: Just 25 days after it was introduced, the Maryland Senate enacted the first gas tax hike in 21 years, sending the governor a 10 to 12 cent per gallon increase by 2015. The bill calls for the tax to go even higher — it will rise automatically in future years, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

The legislation, which transportation officials say would yield $4.4 billion for new projects over the next six years, passed the House of Delegates last week and now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who introduced the bill, for his signature, report John Wagner and Aaron Davis of the Post.

Sen. Richard Colburn said he introduced an amendment that would remove tying the excise tax to inflation, since that is what makes the passage of the bill such a “devastation to the Eastern Shore.” It was rejected, reports Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star Democrat.

GUN CONTROL: Gov. O’Malley notched a victory late Friday in a House committee that had become a linchpin in his efforts to pass one of the most far-reaching legislative responses to last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., writes Aaron Davis of the Post.

The central pieces of the governor’s bill, already approved by the Maryland Senate, survived despite multiple amendments during a marathon eight-hour joint committee voting session that stretched late into Friday night, Erin Cox reports for the Sun.

One significant amendment is a requirement for gun owners to report, within 72 hours, when a regulated firearm is lost or stolen, reports Holly Nunn in the Gazette. Another prohibits those who receive probation before judgment when accused of violent crimes from owning regulated firearms. The panel also doubled the licensing fee set by the Senate, to $50 from $25.

Del. Mike McDermott pushed forward an amendment that exempts the Maryland Defense Force from many aspects of the bill, including allowing members to buy guns from the list of banned “assault weapons” and to purchase or receive a handgun without having to show the Handgun Qualification License, reports Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star-Democrat.

The fervor of the debate over amendments was matched by the enthusiasm of the gun control opponents who filled an overflow room down the hall, Tom McPartand reports for the Daily Record. Watching the proceedings on a projector, they erupted in applause as Republican lawmakers raised objections to the bill.

WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Aaron Davis of the Washington Post talk about the ever-shifting movement on O’Malley’s gun control legislation.

ABUSE COVERUP: A bill proposed by Del. Michael Hough would make it a crime to intentionally block mandatory reporting of child abuse or neglect allegations, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post. With the legislation, someone who interferes with flagging abuse would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could get up to five years’ imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.

PAPER MILL SUBSIDIES: Legislation that would have phased out millions in ratepayer-financed subsidies for mostly out-of-state paper mills died in a House committee Friday, just a day after the Senate passed a companion measure.

SAME DAY VOTER REGISTRATION: Maryland’s General Assembly is expected to reach final agreement in coming days on a measure promoted by O’Malley that for the first time would allow residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day, reports Aaron Davis in the Post.

BOAT SALE RECOVERY BILL: A bill originally written to cap Maryland’s vessel excise tax passed the Senate unanimously on Friday. But there’s a catch — it no longer caps the state’s vessel excise tax, reports Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette. In fact, it no longer has anything to do with that tax or with addressing the problem that prompted the boating industry to call for a cap.

SOFT SHELL CRAB SANDWICH: The state Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill designating the soft-shell crab placed between two slices of bread — often enjoyed with tomato, lettuce and perhaps a squirt of lemon and some Old Bay seasoning — the official sandwich of the state, writes Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS VS. PRIVATE SCHOOLS: The rift between public and private education couldn’t be much larger than it is in Maryland, where public schools are boasted about as No. 1 in the nation and private schools receive less state funding than several neighboring states, writes Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com.

BAKER PG SCHOOL PLAN: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s plan to gain new powers over the county’s public schools got a failing grade at a Senate hearing Friday from a school board member, labor leaders and a PTA representative, even as legislative leaders continued to work behind the scenes to craft a bill they said would give Baker at least some of what he wants, reports Miranda Spivack for the Post.

CITY SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION: In a long-sought victory for Baltimore City, the Maryland Senate approved a $1 billion financing plan Friday for an unprecedented system-wide drive to rebuild and renovate the city’s crumbling school buildings, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun. The measure passed easily on a bipartisan vote of 40-7. It now goes back to the House of Delegates for approval of a minor amendment before moving on to O’Malley’s desk.

WA CO BILLS: For the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly, most of the bills sponsored by the Washington County delegation appear to be on their way to final passage, Kaustuv Basu writes for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. But several key issues that could bring state money to the county in the form of grants or money related to capital projects likely will be hammered out this week and early next week before the session ends April 8. There’s a video report at the top of the story.

O’DONNELL UNSPUN: In her Unspun column, Kate Havard speaks with Del. Anthony O’Donnell, a Republican takes his job seriously as the voice of the opposition in a Democratic controlled General Assembly.

GOV’S TEXT MESSAGES: A series of accidentally released text messages from Gov. O’Malley’s office gives a bit of insight into the governor’s private discussions, writes Scott Calvert for the Sun.

FORMER DEL. CURRAN DIES: Gerald Curran, a member of a well-known political family who represented Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods in the Maryland House of Delegates, died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 74, writes Jacques Kelly for the Sun.

BEN CARSON – NO SURPRISES HERE: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes, “I am not among the many who are shocked that Ben Carson, the brilliant and widely admired neurosurgeon based at Johns Hopkins Hospital, would emerge as a hero of the political right and Sean Hannity’s new best friend. That Carson would stoop to making (and later sort of apologizing for) homophobic remarks on Hannity’s national television show — associating gays with pedophiles and people who have sex with animals — didn’t surprise me, either.”

JOB GROWTH: Maryland added 10,500 jobs in February, led again by the private sector and narrowly lowering the state’s unemployment rate, Ryan Sherrow of the Baltimore Business Journal reports.

FEDERAL FURLOUGHS: A month after across-the-board federal spending cuts began, there are signs that one of the most troubling potential consequences for Maryland — the furloughing of federal employees — might not be as widespread as initially feared.

RIGHT TO CARRY TASERS: With violent crimes reported around the United States, and the media giving them around-the-clock attention, it’s no wonder ordinary Americans are feeling more vulnerable than ever, says Anne Arundel County Councilman Derek Fink, who introduced a bill this month that would allow county residents to carry Tasers and stun guns as a way of defending themselves, reports Jonathan Pitts for the Sun.

SNOWDEN’S NEXT MOVE: Carl Snowden might continue as chairman of the Annapolis public housing board now that his jail sentence is completed, Elisha Sauers reports in the Capital-Gazette.

HEADS UP: In case the legislators were losing their heads over tax hikes or gun control, dozens of lawmakers had their heads handed to them on Friday, or at least a reasonable facsimile, reports MarylandReporter.com