ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers will consider abolishing a handgun permit review board, citing concerns that the board overturns too many decisions by the Maryland State Police.
Democratic members of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee said they wish to dissolve the Handgun Permit Review Board, but their legislation has been met with skepticism by a key Senate committee chair.
Discussion on abolishing the panel Monday night came as the committee voted for a second consecutive week to hold the nominations of three members of the board appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
“I don’t have a problem with people having guns,” said Sen. Pam Beidle, D-Anne Arundel. “I want the right people to have guns.”
Beidle, a freshman senator, was named by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. as a potential sponsor of a bill that would abolish the Handgun Permit Review Board and replace it with an appeals process that goes directly to the Office of Administrative Hearings.
In Maryland, concealed carry permits are decided by the Maryland State Police, which can approve with or without restrictions or deny an application. Applicants can appeal the decisions to the Handgun Permit Review Board, a panel established in the early 1970s. That board has the ability to reverse or modify decisions made by the state police.
Concerning to Beidle and other Democratic lawmakers are the 222 times the board has voted to alter a state police decision, including 145 changes to modifications or restrictions and 77 times the board reversed a decision by the police, according to figures released by the permit review board.
“I’m sure (the state police) are not right 100 percent of the time, but they’re not wrong 80 percent of the time,” said Beidle.
Other members of the Senate Committee acknowledged that Hogan’s nominees may well be following the law but questioned the need for the permit review board.
“I would think the objection is not about these particular people,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County. “It’s about the structure and the purpose of the board and who it is they are overruling and the fact that they’re doing it to such a great degree that it would appear that the state police almost have no role. They are they experts and not the people on this board.
“I think it’s a committee that is no longer needed,” said Kelley. “Instead of being helpful, I think it’s a problem.”
Lawmakers seeking answers about the number of modifications and reversals have delayed for a second week a decision on the three member of the board appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan — Brian Fischer, Carol Loveless and John Michel.
Republicans on the committee for the second consecutive week expressed objections to withholding a decision on the three board nominees.
“I just think we’re so focused on this board that we’re holding up these individuals,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and Senate minority leader. “I think it’s wrong. I think if we’re going to do it somebody in this room should put a bill in and change it.”
Those appeals go before the Office of Administrative Appeals under a law enacted last year. That law was the result of another attempt to abolish the board. But Democrats in the Senate see the change from last year differently.
Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, expressed skepticism about whether the number of appeals are a cause for concern for the state police.
“I have not been contacted by one state trooper,” said Klausmeier.
But the number of appeals to an administrative hearing judge aren’t what they seem according to Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Zirkin and his committee amended a bill last year that initially proposed to abolish the Handgun Permit Review Board. Instead, the compromise bill added a process that allows for the applicant and police to appeal a board decision to the Office of Administrative Appeals and, if desired, then to the Circuit Court and state appeals courts.
“We created a judicial process where there was none,’ said Zirkin. “That was not a nothing bill.”
Beidle said the state police have sent 15 appeals to the Office of Administrative Hearings and are preparing 15 more.
Zirkin said those who desire to abolish the board will have to show there’s a good reason to do so.
“I don’t recall any testimony last year in which we were told a single person who got a permit did something illegal,” said Zirkin. “If there is a policy reason to do something, we’ll do it.”
Miller, the Senate leader, said he’d prefer to see appeals taken directly to an administrative officer rather than the review board. He said the compromise bill that came out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee didn’t go far enough.
“These (nominees) they didn’t do anything wrong. The governor appointed them because they have a fixed view. The law is what it is. My problem is this law pre-dates the Office of Administrative Hearings,” said Miller, calling the reversals “an affront to the state police.”
Miller said he would ultimately vote to confirm the three nominees but also for “any law that abolishes the board.”
“We had the bill last year in JPR and Bobby massaged it and massaged it and massaged it,” said Miller. “He came up with a nothing burger.”