Gun control bill passes, but gun advocates make their voices heard

grim reaper

A man dressed as the Grim Reaper stands outside the State House in Annapolis. He said passing Gov. O'Malley's gun control bill would amount to the death of the Bill of Rights. (Kelsey Miller/The Daily Record)

A marathon voting session on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s controversial gun control bill brought a slew of opponents to Annapolis on Friday to pressure delegates and speak out for Second Amendment rights.

Gun advocates packed the House Office Building before the Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees took up numerous amendments to the bill, which would ban assault rifles, limit magazines to 10 bullets and require buyers to register their fingerprints before purchasing a gun. (Both panels ultimately passed the bill 27-18 Friday night after hours of debate.)

Many in the crowd wore stickers reading “2014,” a not-so-subtle reminder to delegates that a vote for the measure could have consequences at the polls next year.

“It does have its ramifications when you take rights away,” said Jim Green, 65, a lifelong resident of Maryland who lives in New Windsor.

Before the voting session, those that could not fit in the packed hearing room milled around the lobby awaiting the arrival of delegates. As staunch gun control opponent Del. Michael Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, passed by, he was treated to an ovation.

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. Watching the proceedings on a projector, they erupted in applause as Republican lawmakers raised objections to the bill.

One sticking point came when Del. Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico and Worcester, moved to strike a requirement forcing buyers to complete a proficiency test when purchasing a firearm.

“I’m afraid that it will be a de facto gun ban if you cannot comply with these provisions,” McDermott’s said, to the great pleasure of onlookers.

The atmosphere of the overflow room contrasted the subdued nature of the audience in the hearing room, where only a few outbursts occurred but were quelled quickly by Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s.

The attitude of gun advocates was best summed up in response to a debate over a measure to exempt state militias, both official and unofficial, from the bill’s requirements.

Who is the unofficial militia, some delegates asked.

The answer came from the back of overflow room.

“We’re here,” a man bellowed, followed by raucous applause from the rest of the crowd.

Senate committee considers Prince George’s Co. school system overhaul

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee heard testimony Friday on a proposal to overhaul the Prince George’s County school system.

The committee heard testimony on House Bill 1107, which would create a task force to evaluate best practices for the county’s school board operations. It also heard the more controversial Senate Bill 1071, which would give County Executive Rushern L. Baker increased power to overhaul the struggling school system.

The Senate bill, called the “Academic Revitalization and Management Effectiveness Initiative,” would give the county executive power to appoint school board members and superintendent but keep the budget and salaries within the responsibilities of the school board.

The school system is searching for a new superintendent and has seen the position change hands five time in the last 10 years.

The Senate bill faces opposition from many labor organizations as well as the Prince George’s County Board of Education and some teachers and parents. Opponents testified the bill lacks checks and balances, gives the county executive too much power, was poorly researched and should not be pushed through with so little time left in the legislative session.

“Our county dynamics are unique for a variety of reasons and our school system reflects the same,” said Verjeana Jacobs, chair of Prince George’s County Board of Education. “These fundamental changes to our school system are much too important to do in such a short amount of time.”

Baker testified similar action has been taken in New York City and Washington, D.C., and that his urgency was due to the superintendent position vacancy.

“I believe we need to make some changes in the way we set up the structure,” Baker said “Clearly something needs to be done in Prince George’s county in terms of our education system.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, sat in on the hearing.

“Our citizenry is very frustrated with our school system,” Miller said afterward, citing what he sees as a lack of cooperation and slow progress.

Miller said he thought the bill would be amended to reflect what the witnesses said in the hearing.

Little opposition was given for the House bill.

Prince George’s County delegation members from both chambers will host a joint public hearing on the bill Monday night beginning at 5 p.m. in the Joint Hearing Room in the Department of Legislative Services.

Ravens and Lombardi trophy visit the State House

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith with Gov. Martin O'Malley, Ravens President Dick Cass and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

Two members of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens visited the State House on Thursday and brought along the organization’s new hardware.

Team President Dick Cass and wide receiver Torrey Smith brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Senate and House of Delegates and allowed lawmakers to take photos with the trophy for part of their morning sessions.

Cass said other players had scattered across the country to rest up following a 10-6 regular season and surprising, four-game run through the NFL playoffs that culminated in a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII but that Smith, a University of Maryland graduate, could always be counted on for events such as Thursday’s.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. allowed senators to leave the chamber row by row to have their picture taken with Smith, Cass and the championship trophy. At one point, every Senate Republican was in the lounge having their picture taken, prompting Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, to take notice.

“Mr. President, it may be a good time to take up the transportation tax,” Pinsky said, drawing laughter from the remaining lawmakers. Republicans are expected to fight against House Bill 1515, which would increase gas taxes and transit fares to pay for transportation projects.

Smith, who just completed an internship with U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, also briefly visited the House of Delegates last week.

Eye Opener: Section 8 voucher bill rejected by Senate

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Thursday:

Senate panel OKs Baltimore school construction financing bill

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has unanimously approved a 35-year plan to leverage $60 million a year in public money to pay for nearly $1 billion worth of renovations to Baltimore schools.

The panel voted 13-0 to approve House Bill 860 with just one technical amendment, continuing the legislation’s expedited path toward expected approval. The bill was passed by the House of Delegates on Friday and the committee held a public hearing on Tuesday.

Under the bill, the state would commit $20 million a year from lottery ticket revenue, the city would commit $20 million a year from its bottle tax revenue, the rent and table game taxes paid by a future Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street and other sources, and the city’s school system would contribute $20 million.

State fiscal analysts predict that the $60 million would leverage between $900 and $970 million in bonds, each to be repaid within 30 years of issuance. The Maryland Stadium Authority — which used a similar mechanism to pay for construction of M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards –  would issue the bonds.

The committee unanimously approved the bill despite concerns from some members about such a long-term plan.

“We’re making an extremely long commitment of state funds,” said Sen. James “Ed” DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Budget and Taxation Chairman Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore County and Howard County, said the bill wouldn’t go before the full Senate for a few days.

He added that the Budget and Taxation Committee would vote Thursday on a comprehensive plan to fund transportation projects through gas tax and transit fare increases.

Eye Opener: Gun bill could be voted on soon

gun control rally 2

Advocates of gun control rally in Annapolis. (File Photo)

Here’s a few government and politics headlines for Wednesday:

Gas industry lobbyist briefly returns to his roots

Buried toward the end of Tuesday’s three-hour hearing on a multimillion dollar plan to raise money for transportation projects in Maryland was one opponent who may have had a leg up on the others.

Drew Cobbs, the executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, testified in the waning minutes of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee‘s hearing on House Bill 1515, and the longtime gas industry lobbyist had more to offer than how the bill would impact his interest group — Cobbs was a senior policy analyst for the Maryland Department of Transportation for 13 years.

Harkening back to those years, Cobbs told the Senate panel that indexing Maryland’s excise tax on gasoline wouldn’t be necessary if the legislature just increased the tax every five years, as was once fairly common until the legislature — under the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening — broke the streak in 1997. Maryland’s 23.5-cent gas tax hasn’t increased since 1992.

Cobbs also added that H.B. 1515 — the consensus agreement reached among Gov. Martin O’Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. — just played catch-up and did little to address ongoing operating costs of transit.

“We have a significant wound that’s bleeding,” Cobbs told the committee. “But all we’re going to do is give a transfusion, not close the wound.”

Senate sets hearing for gas tax bill

Business leaders in Maryland support increasing the state's gas tax to improve congestion and create jobs for construction crews. (File Photo)

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday for comprehensive legislation that would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects.

The panel will also hold a hearing Tuesday afternoon for an ambitious plan to finance redevelopment of Baltimore schools. Some lawmakers say the bills have been tied together to garner support for increases in Maryland’s gas tax and transit fees in the city.

The 1 p.m. hearings were added to the committee’s schedule following a brief introduction of House Bill 1515 and House Bill 860 to the full Senate on Monday afternoon. The House passed the transportation legislation, which would increase the price of gas by about 4 cents this summer through a pair of tax increases, in a contentious, 76-63 vote Friday. The school construction plan passed 107-30.

Both bills have the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, and are expected to pass the Senate. But Republican lawmakers have vowed to speak out against the transportation plan, which would raise $3.4 billion over the next five years on the back of tax increases.

The House took just a week between its public hearing on the transportation bill and final passage, as the chamber raced toward a deadline to send bills to the Senate. Less than two weeks remain in the legislature’s regular 90-day session.

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast returns with a look back at a busy weekend in the House of Delegates.

Alex and I discuss the latest on the gun control and transportation bills and whether lawmakers will be able to resolve the major sticking points in the bills in the General Assembly’s final two weeks.

We also examine the prospects of tax increment financing (better known as TIFs) and reveal the man behind the medical marijuana bill.

Enjoy.

Maryland breweries could soon sell beer on site

Craft beer drinkers could pull up a stool and have a pint at Maryland production breweries this summer under legislation passed by the House of Delegates on Saturday.

House Bill 4, sponsored by Eastern Shore Republican Dels. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio and Adelaide C. Eckardt, was approved 131-o. The bill would allow holders of a Class 5 brewer license to sell a certain amount of beer for on-site consumption. Presently, such licensees can only offer six 3-ounce samples and sell beer for off-site drinking.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Richard F. Colburn is stuck in committee.

A dozens breweries across Maryland — including Evolution Craft Brewing Co. and Eastern Shore Brewing, both of which operate in areas represented by Haddaway-Riccio and Eckardt — would benefit from the bill.

So would state coffers. According to state fiscal analysts — who admittedly take some liberties in guessing how much beer might be sold and at what price — new combined sales and alcohol tax revenue could reach almost $60,000 a year.