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Editorial: Thumbs up and down for 2013 session

In what many observers consider one of the more productive sessions of Maryland’s legislature, there are some clear winners. Gov. Martin O’Malley batted 1.000 on his legislation. Gun-control supporters and anti-death penalty activists were among the other victors. Here is The Daily Record’s take on some of the landmark legislation passed this year:

UP — to offshore wind. This is a tough one because this type of energy generation is expensive, and Maryland ratepayers are already struggling with household expenses (this would add $1.50 per month to residential bills); business will see a 1.5 percent increase in monthly bills. That being said, should the venture prove successful, rates could decrease in the long term (after a 20-year, $1.7 billion subsidy has been paid), and the state could be a national model for other coastal jurisdictions for cheaper, cleaner energy.

UP — to funding for Baltimore schools. A no-brainer: $1 billion will be directed toward a critical area of need — the city’s school system infrastructure. According to the schools chief, this will help 85,000 children learn in updated, modern classrooms. Funding comes from lottery revenues and profits from a new casino. Not a bad way to spend that cash.

DOWN — to dog bite legislation. By failing to act on this, the General Assembly let stand a court decision that states pit bull owners and their landlords could be held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs. This was one of the more ugly episodes this year, with personal attacks flying across the two chambers.

UP — to cell phone driving law. Driving while talking on a cell phone is now a primary offense, which should reduce distracted driving overall. According to a Harvard risk analysis study, the annual cost of crashes caused by cell phone use is about $43 billion. That’s more than the entire state budget this year.

DOWN — to public-private partnership legislation. This is an idea worth exploring more, but Maryland may have jumped the gun by opening the door to greater private control of state facilities. While the cash influx companies offer is attractive, more study and a healthy degree of skepticism should be in place before turning over public-good endeavors to corporations that have long-term profits in mind.

UP — to death penalty repeal. The opportunity for mistakes in death penalty cases is too great to allow even the scant chance for an innocent person to be killed at the hands of the state.

UP — to gun control. This is another case where the number “1” takes on significance. If by reducing accessibility to firearms, a life can be saved — even one — that is worth some minor additional burdens to obtain weapons. Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is not quite the same as confiscation.

UP AND DOWN — to the gas tax. It’s been far too long since the state raised the gas tax, and the revenue bump will help with a miserably failing transportation system. The General Assembly went a bit too far, however, in indexing the excise tax to inflation without the opportunity for prices to go down should deflation occur. In a lagging economy, this could present a devastating one-two punch to businesses and commuters.

UP — to medical marijuana. This one comes with a caveat. While medical marijuana can offer great benefits for terminally ill patients who are in severe pain, it must be well-regulated. This should not be an opportunity for wide use of recreational drugs.

UP — to minimum wage law. By not increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour, lawmakers avoided increasing prices for everyone in the state. While increased wages should remain a goal, mandating them will only cause inflation to rapidly spike, leading to severe sticker shock.