DEATH PENALTY & OTHER PREDICTIONS: John Wagner and Aaron Davis of the Post report that the opening day of the General Assembly session was filled with bold predictions: Gov. Martin O’Malley expects lawmakers to pass an assault-weapons ban and Senate President Mike Miller said the General Assembly will embrace O’Malley’s twice-rejected legislation to boost the state’s wind-power industry with offshore turbines as well as repeal the state’s death penalty.
O’Malley, a death penalty opponent, has not said if he will make repeal part of his legislative agenda this year, reports the Sun’s Erin Cox.
Earl Kelly, of the Capital Gazette, quotes Sen. President Miller as saying, “After what happened in Newtown, Conn., we should not be talking about getting rid of the death penalty, we should be talking about expanding it.”
Even so, John Wagner of the Post also quotes Miller: “I think if the governor uses his persuasive techniques, of which he has many, I think the bill (to repeal the death penalty) will pass the Senate, quite frankly.”
But Miller also predicted the resulting death penalty repeal law will be petitioned to the ballot for the November 2014 elections, writes Pamela Wood for the Capital-Gazette.
GUN CONTROL: The Easton Star-Democrat has a video interview with Del. Michael Smigiel, who says that the right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally protected and “comes from God” and is also concerned about a possible cigarette tax increase. Lucas High of the Capital News Service quotes Smigiel as saying, “There is no legislator, executive or judiciary that can do anything to infringe upon the right to bear arms. The Constitution is non-negotiable.”
150 BILLS PREFILED: The 87 Senate bills and 60 House bills already filed by the opening of the General Assembly’s 2013 session in Annapolis cover a wide range of ground, from criminal history checks for state employees to organ donation laws, reports Matthew Bieniek of the Cumberland Times-News.
STRUCTURAL DEFICIT: Del. Norman Conway, a Lower Shore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said this year will put the state one step closer to removing its structural deficit and will serve as an important time to increase funding for school construction, reports Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times.
ANTI-FRACKING DEMONSTRATION: Anti-fracking activists from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network set up a “water taste test” outside the State House, reports the Post’s Kate Harvard. They invited legislators to choose from cloudy brown water from a house spigot in a “heavily fracked” area of southwestern Pennsylvania, a sample of “seemingly clear but at-risk” water from an area potentially affected by fracking and tap water from a fountain inside the State House.
GAS TAX HIKE PUSHED: Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Donald Fry didn’t waste time trying to rally support for increased gas taxes to pay for transportation projects, blogs Earl Kelly in the Capital-Gazette.
Another hot topic this session will be the gas tax hike to aid transportation funding. Legislative analysts recently projected that in coming years the state’s special fund capital budget will contain just enough money for upkeep projects, with nothing left for expansion, writes Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post.
VIRGINIA’S IDEA: The editorial board of the Sun suggests that maybe Maryland should take a page from Virginia’s playbook: Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell proposed eliminating the politically unpopular gas tax altogether and replacing it with higher sales taxes, a variety of fees and as-yet nonexistent revenue from taxing sales over the Internet to increase transportation funding.
In an op-ed for the Washington Times, Deborah Simmons writes that transportation issues are the No. 1 priority for the D.C. area, and VA Gov. McDonnell’s ideas on how to pay for them are worth a listen.
CAUTION ON CITY SCHOOLS: House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Miller expressed reservations about a plan advanced by the Rawlings-Blake administration to expedite school renovation in Baltimore City, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.
WA CO & DISPARITY GRANT: On opening day, members of the Washington County delegation were busy sorting through the issues that will affect residents the most, writes Kaustuv Basu of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Chief among them is the issue of the disparity grant, which could bring some much needed money to the county. Counties with per-capita income tax revenues less than 75% of the state average are eligible for the grant, but the program was capped in 2010 and Washington County has not been part of the program since.
MD SCHOOLS NO. 1: Rachel Baye of the Washington Examiner reports that an independent report ranks Maryland’s schools best in the nation for the fifth year in a row, and Virginia held its fourth-place spot, as D.C. schools moved out of the bottom five.
But, writes Mark Newgent of Red Maryland, the report shows that the state is still failing its most vulnerable students. Maryland still ranks 50th in 8th grade math poverty gap, the state dropped 10 spots to 44th in 8th grade math poverty gap change, and fell four spots to 38th in 4th grade reading poverty gap.
LAWYERS FEES SOUGHT: Perdue Farms and the family farmer who prevailed over environmentalists in a key water pollution lawsuit are now trying to win at least $3 million in attorney fees, reports Pamela Wood for the Capital-Gazette.
The poultry giant is seeking to recoup attorney fees from the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, which sued the company and Eastern Shore contract grower Alan Hudson, the AP’s Alex Dominguez writes in the Salisbury Daily Times.
GAMBLING SUIT: In a lawsuit described as pitting “kittens against lions,” eight slot machine opponents from Prince George’s County are challenging the constitutionality of the ballot question, passed Nov. 6, that allows Las Vegas-style table games and 24-hour gambling at all Maryland casinos, reports Tim Prudente for the Capital-Gazette.
BUDGET HOLE IN PG: Prince George’s County officials, trying to plug a projected $152 million budget gap, have asked county agencies to trim current spending by 2% to 5% as they devise budget plans for the coming fiscal year, writes the Post’s Miranda Spivack.