April 5, 2013

State Roundup, April 5, 2013

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SWING TO THE LEFT: Over the past two years, Maryland has enacted laws that represent a dramatic liberal shift, even for a state long dominated by Democrats, reports Paul Schwartzman for the Post. Driving the progressive swing is Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly, which now embraces legislation that it previously rejected.

GUN LAW PASSES: In a historic move, the Maryland General Assembly late Thursday passed Gov. O’Malley’s bill that would give the state some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, writes Alex Jackson for the Capital-Gazette.

The legislation bans the sale of assault-style weapons, requires fingerprints and a license to buy a handgun, and limits magazines to 10 bullets, among other provisions, giving Maryland one of the strictest gun laws in the nation, reports Erin Cox of the Sun.

Senate Democrats signed off on changes made to the gun bill in the House of Delegates rather than risk running out of time working on a compromise before the legislative session ends Monday, write Aaron Davis and Ovetta Wiggins for the Post.

An AP story in the Carroll County Times reports that Maryland will become the first state in nearly 20 years to require potential handgun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police. Only five other states have a similar requirement: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Meredith Somers of the Washington Times quotes Vinny DeMarco, of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence as saying, “As states that have this show, when handgun purchasers have to get a fingerprint license through the state police, they are much less likely to buy guns for criminals.”

Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes that no matter where you go – or what you want to eat – it’s difficult to get away from the debate over gun control.

Frederick County senators cast opposing votes as lawmakers made their final deliberation on the gun control bill, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News-Post.

ANOTHER REFERENDUM? Following the bills passage, many Marylanders in opposition to the law may be wondering: what next? Republican delegates have not yet come together with a unified response. However, rumors of a referendum petition are moving fast, reports Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com.

But gun control proponents are more confident a petition drive will be launched, Holly Nunn writes in the Gazette.

MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING: Despite general agreement of the need for more mental health services to prevent gun violence, providers argue that the state’s psychiatric services are woefully underfunded and that the General Assembly has done little to address this problem, Ilana Kowarski writes in MarylandReporter.com. They were particularly shocked that the governor took away some Medicaid funding for mental health in his supplemental budget this week.

PREGNANT WORKERS: Legislation that would strengthen the rights of pregnant women in the workplace has now passed both chambers of the General Assembly and will go to the governor’s desk for signing, Andrea Walker reports in the Sun. Companies would have to adjust the duties of women who can’t perform their normal jobs because they are pregnant.

EARLY VOTING: The General Assembly is close to passing Gov. O’Malley’s bill to expand early voting and allow for same-day registration, Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette writes. If the Senate concurs with the House bill, it will head to O’Malley’s desk. If a conference committee is needed to work out the differences in the House and Senate bills, both chambers must agree on a bill by April 8, the scheduled last day of the General Assembly’s 90-day session.

VESSEL TAX: The marine industry might get its vessel excise tax cap after all, writes Alex Jackson for the Capital-Gazette. With the General Assembly’s 90-day session nearing its end, the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday passed a version of Senate Bill 90 that would include $15,000 vessel excise tax cap with a three-year sunset.

REPORTING CHILD ABUSE: A bill introduced by two Washington County legislators that could become law would make it a crime to interfere with the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect, Kaustuv Basu reports in the Hagerstown Herald Mail. Current Maryland law requires teachers, counselors, social workers, caseworkers, and parole or probation officers to notify appropriate agencies if they suspect child abuse. The bill seeks to punish anyone who tries to interfere with such reporting.

CYBER BULLYING: The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to pass HB 396, a bill that would make it a crime to harass a minor online. The House passed the same bill with a unanimous vote in March, Alex Jackson writes in the Capital-Gazette. The bill goes after people who use an “interactive computer service” to maliciously inflict serious emotional distress on a minor, electronic harassment of a minor or place a minor in fear of their life or injury.

Monique Griego of WJZ-TV reports that the bill is called Grace’s Law, named after a Howard County teen who committed suicide after being bullied online.

UNION FEES: A bill that would require Maryland’s nonunion public school employees to pay a fee to education unions is on its way to Gov. O’Malley’s desk after the state Senate gave it final approval Thursday, reports Andy Brownfield for the Washington Examiner.

POOLSIDE DEFIBRILLATOR: The General Assembly has passed Connor’s Law, named in honor of a 5-year-old boy who drowned at the Crofton Country Club’s pool in 2006. It requires all of the county’s public and semipublic pools to have an automatic external defibrillator, Alex Jackson reports in the Capital-Gazette.

TU SWITCH-UP: The day after Gov. O’Malley’s proposal to give Towson University money to keep its men’s baseball program afloat drew criticism, lawmakers on Thursday reached a compromise that they said would help Maryland colleges address the financial and legal challenges that led TU to cut its men’s soccer and baseball programs, writes Erin Cox and Carrie Wells for the Sun.

Erin Egan of the Diamondback reports on the controversial move by O’Malley in light of the fact that the University of Maryland received no such state help in 2012 when it was announced that eight of its teams were to be cut.

John Rydell of WBFF-TV also reports on the controversy.

NADA FOR ANNE ARUNDEL: Earlier this week, Gov. O’Malley unveiled a $222 million supplemental budget that includes money to offset federal sequestration losses and to create a “Gun Center” in anticipation of his gun bill passing. But there’s little in the supplemental budget for Anne Arundel County, reports the Capital-Gazette’s Alex Jackson.

PRINCE GEORGE’S SCHOOLS TAKEOVER: The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the state Senate approved a bill Thursday night authorizing a partial takeover of the Prince George’s County school system by the county executive. The legislation, approved 39 to 7, goes now to the House of Delegates.

TWITTER CHIEF: Zoe Pagonis, O’Malley’s director of digital strategy, has accepted a job as the Democratic National Committee’s digital content manager. Pagonis said she will be managing the committee’s social media accounts, including those on Twitter and Facebook, John Wagner writes in the Post. She’ll also be the DNC’s lead blogger and editor.

EDWARDS, STAFF PAY CUTS: U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland has joined the growing tide of government officials tightening their belts in response to the sequester, announcing Thursday that she and her aides will take a pay cut Ben Pershing reports in the Post.

SHARK FINS: While only a handful of restaurants in the state the General Assembly has passed legislation to ban possession and sale of shark fins in Maryland, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian E. Frosh  was also introduced and passed by the Senate last year, but was held up in the House.

RAIN TAX: How can we tax thee? Let the Gazette’s Blair Lee count the ways. Baby the rain must fall, but must it be taxed? he asks.