April 9, 2013

State Roundup, April 9, 2013

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LAST MINUTE VOTES: Police could pull you over for talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Some patients could legally use marijuana. And veterans would get new assistance in getting jobs under legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly on its final day, write Erin Cox and Michael Dresser in the Sun.

With a midnight deadline looming, they also approved a campaign finance bill that would raise the amount donors can give while seeking to clamp down on corporations that use a loophole to make multiple contributions to the same candidate, Aaron Davis and John Wagner report in the Post.

Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post writes that, on the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers took up a few of the major issues that remained unresolved, including the state Senate, which acted early in the day to approve a bill that would allow the study of medical uses of marijuana.

Despite the full agenda, Gov. Martin O’Malley described the session as one of the most orderly he has experienced, crediting House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller with mobilizing the strong Democratic majorities in both chambers to pass difficult legislation in the governor’s seventh legislative session, the AP’s Brian Witte and Michelle Janaye Nealy report in the Salisbury Daily Times.

LIBERAL AGENDA: Republican lawmakers from Washington County expressed fears that the state had veered too far to the left during the current session with a gun-control measure, the repeal of the death penalty and a hike in the gas tax, writes Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

Senate President Miller said that Maryland has become a much more liberal state, noting that the legislation passed this year never would have flown when he became Senate president more than two decades ago, writes Andy Brownfield for the Washington Examiner.

Karen Hosler of WYPR-FM reports that the General Assembly adjourned last night after fulfilling a bold agenda that will underscore Maryland’s reputation for liberal policies and become part of Gov. O’Malley’s political resume.

IT’S A WRAP: After an impasse over taxes and gambling forced two special sessions last year, most of Maryland’s lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – wrapped up their yearly business all smiles on Monday night, writes Alex Jackson for the Capital-Gazette.

TRANSPORTATION FUND LOCKBOX: Voters next year will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment creating a “lockbox” to prevent raids on the Transportation Trust Fund for other purposes, but Republican opponents said the measure was a sham that would provide little protection, Len Lazarick reports for MarylandReporter.com.

With a little less than three hours to go in the General Assembly, House Republicans launched their version of a filibuster against a constitutional amendment imposing what they consider a too-weak lockbox deterring the transfer of money from the Transportation Trust Fund to other purposes, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.

PRIVATE-SECTOR PENSION: In the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, a bill that would have created a task force to study the implementation of a private-sector pension system got stuck in committee, Kelsey Miller reports for the Daily Record.

MIXED BAG ON ENVIRONMENT: Tim Wheeler of the Sun writes that environmentalists found a lot to praise but also a lot to criticize as they saw many legislative priorities watered down or killed outright, including proposals to curb littering by levying a nickel fee on plastic merchandise bags and charging a nickel deposit on beverage containers.

STORMWATER FEES: Environmental activists defeated a last-minute push to delay stormwater fees that will pay for Chesapeake Bay pollution projects, Pamela Wood reports in the Capital-Gazette.

The amendment to delay the fees for two years was sponsored by Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who said the timing was not right for an increase in government fees, even though he supported the principle that governments should invest in environmental clean-up, Ilana Kowarski reports in MarylandReporter.com.

CELL PHONE USE: As the General Assembly headed into its final hours, the Sun’s Erin Cox writes, lawmakers have already passed legislation allowing police to pull drivers over for talking on a cellphone and have approved every piece of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s agenda.

GUN CONTROL: Gwen Ifill of PBS’s Newshour speaks with gun control advocate Vinny DeMarco on Maryland’s new and stricter gun laws.

The editorial board for the Sun writes that, with Gov. O’Malley’s landmark gun control bill given final approval by the Senate on Friday and waiting only the governor’s signature to be enacted into law, Democrats in Annapolis are likely hoping that the next step will be talk of the “R” word – that’s right – referendum. That would give the vast majority of Marylanders who favor gun control a firm say at the ballot.

PIT BULL COMPROMISE DIES: House Speaker Michael Busch said a compromise bill intended to reverse a court decision singling out pit bulls as an “inherently dangerous” breed died on the House floor because it just didn’t have the votes. It is extremely rare for a conference committee report to fail on the House floor, where unlike the Senate there is no filibuster, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun.

Meghan McCorkell of WJZ-TV reports that this is a huge upset for animal advocates. The Senate passed a compromise bill on pit bulls, but the House did not vote on it. The move leaves dog owners in the lurch for another year.

THERAPIST RULES: After a difficult few months of fighting to pass a bill to prohibit sexual abuse by therapists, Heather Lynette Sinclair and bill co-sponsors got less than half of what they wanted, writes Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com. Of the two bills they sought, only HB 56, a civil initiative requiring background checks for mental health therapists and counselors, was passed just days before the 2013 session came to a close.

FOR GARRETT COUNTY: Matthew Bieniek of the Cumberland Times News reports that as the session wound down Monday, the success of legislation affecting Garrett County in western Maryland was a mixed bag. Several projects were given state funds including $1 million for upgrades to the Adventure Sports Center International.

LOCKHEED TAX EXEMPTION: Despite objections from the Montgomery County Council, the Maryland General Assembly on Monday passed a bill that will exempt defense firm Lockheed Martin from $450,000 in county hotel taxes, writes Holly Nunn in the Gazette.

David Moon at Maryland Juice gives a political breakdown of the votes, noting that those seeking higher office voted against the bill.

BILL SIGNING: The AP is reporting on WBFF-TV that Gov. O’Malley will start off this morning signing bills.

LAFERLA TO FILE FOR CONGRESS: John LaFerla is back, reports Craig O’Donnell for the Easton Star Democrat. He will file as Democratic candidate in the 1st District congressional race on Wednesday. The last-minute candidate for Congress in last year’s election is looking ahead to 2014. The 1st District seat is currently held by Andy Harris.

FAKE BONGINO RELEASE: A fake press release from Dan Bongino had the former Republican Senate candidate running for governor — which he may do — but not with another unsuccesful Senate candidate, Alan Keyes, as the phony email said, writes Pam Wood in the Capital.