Lawmakers don’t agree on limiting citizen testimony

Hundreds testified on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control legislation Wednesday, but hundreds more were turned away when a crowd estimated to be between 1,000 and 4,000 people overwhelmed the Miller Senate Office Building.

Democrats and Republicans generally don’t agree on most provisions of O’Malley’s bill. Perhaps not surprisingly, they also don’t agree on whether every citizen should have been allowed to testify.

At the conclusion of the Senate’s morning session Thursday, Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin said turning people away from the Judicial Proceedings Committee amounted to a “structural failure.”

“Well over 1,000 people were turned away yesterday,” Pipkin said. “The system broke down yesterday.”

The Upper Shore Republican said the Senate ought to consider holding a multi-day hearings in the future on issues that could potentially attract such a crowd. But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the judicial committee, blamed the overwhelming turnout on robocalls that were made statewide that urged citizens to testify and gave what Frosh called a false impression that the panel could hear the testimony of each person.

The hearing stretched from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. The line of people who wanted to testify once stretched out the door of the Miller building, around the corner past the State House and all the way down to the Post Office on Church Circle.

“I think every argument that could have been on these bills was made,” said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat. “In some cases, over, and over and over.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., himself not a fan of some components of O’Malley’s bill, said it was unreasonable to expect committees to hold a hearing for the same bill that could span multiple days. There are other bills that need to be heard in the legislature’s 90-day session, he said.

“If the robocalls hadn’t been made, everything would have been fine,” Miller said, adding there was no structural solution to accommodating the sheer number of people who wanted to testify.

“The Naval Academy stadium isn’t going to be big enough,” he said.

Several Republicans grumbled disapproval at Miller’s assertion, saying that robocalls had nothing to do with the massive crowd. But Pipkin did inject some humor into the otherwise serious discussion.

After explaining that the large crowds needed to be accommodated in some way, Pipkin joked he’d like to get the crowd back for hearing on O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill, which the Republican leader has derided as the “dumbest idea ever.”

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