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Legislature heads into home stretch scrambling

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Published on: Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ANNAPOLIS – With two weeks to go in the legislative session the General Assembly still has quite a bit of work to get done.

The General Assembly adjourns on April 8, but as of March 27, a budget has yet to be passed. There are still bills on the table which deal with a gas tax hike, an assault weapons ban and several other issues. If the budget bill does not pass by April 1, the Maryland Constitution requires Governor Martin O’Malley to issue a proclamation extending the session for whatever period of time he judges necessary for the passage of the bill, but no other bill would be allowed to be considered during the extended session.

The budget bill, HB100, has gone through both the House of Delegate and the Senate, but the House refused to accept amendments made by the Senate. A joint committee made up of members of the House and members of the Senate began working on the bill together on March 25.

The Senate is still considering the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act, a bill which would apply additional taxes on gasoline based on the retail price of gasoline and inflation. The bill passed a third reading in the House with a 76-63 vote on March 22, but has yet to be voted on in the Senate.

While there are those who oppose raising taxes on gasoline, members of the Montgomery County Council, including Council President Nancy Navarro and Councilman George Leventhal, said they support the bill because the money would be invested in the state’s transportation fund, which in turn could help the county fund its local transportation projects.

“Investing in the construction of roads and transit systems will generate thousands of jobs both in the short term in terms of construction jobs and in the long term in terms of making it easier to get home from work,” Leventhal said. “It enables new investment in areas like the Great Seneca Science Corridor which is entirely dependent on the construction of the Corridor Cities Transitway.”

One of the most controversial bills during the legislative session has been the Firearm Safety Act, which is sponsored by O’Malley. The bill passed its third reading in the Senate with a 29-18 vote, but is still waiting on approval by the House’s Judiciary committee and Health and Government Operations committee.

If passed, the bill bans the purchase of assault weapons after Oct. 1, 2013, and it also creates a licensing scheme for handgun owners. Owners would be required to have fingerprints taken and pay a fee of up to $25 for the license, which is good for 10 years. The bill also contains provisions which attempt to prevent people with mental health problems from owning a gun.

Montgomery Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-District 39), one of the co-sponsors for the bill, said the committees have been going through “tons” of different amendments, and he expects a joint committee made up of both House committees involved with the bill to vote later in the week. If the bill is approved, then it will move onto the House floor.

While Reznik said he does not know for sure, based on the votes by the Senate he expects the bill has the votes to pass in the House as well. Anything could happen, he said, once the bill gets to the House floor and is open to further amendments from delegates.

“I guarantee it will be a very long and drawn out process with tons of amendments at every step of the way,” Reznik said.

As one of the co-sponsors for the bill, Reznik said he supports it in general, but there are details which need to be worked out through the amendment process, such as the cost of obtaining a license, which he said he considers unnecessarily expensive.

“I suspect that once we are done with bill, once we have put in all the amendments that we need to put, we’re not going to win everybody over but I think people will be less concerned with the final product,” Reznik said.

Other bills which are still being worked on by legislators include a bill in the Senate, already passed by the House, which would raise the maximum speed limit on highways in the state to 70 miles per hour, and the Maryland Highway Safety Act, which passed in the Senate and would allow illegal immigrants to obtain a driver’s license from the state.

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