Cumberland Times-News

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February 2, 2013

Law to increase tobacco tax proposed

CUMBERLAND — As the deadline nears to file proposed laws during the current Maryland General Assembly session, proposals to increase the state’s tobacco tax, limit the size of gun magazines and ban gender identity discrimination are all on the agenda.

House Bill 683 would increase the tax to $3 a pack for most cigarettes; that’s a $1 increase.

Local legislators have said they oppose the proposal.

The Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition announced the campaign to raise the tax late last year on Lawyers’ Mall in front of the State House in Annapolis.

“Over the past decade, three cigarette tax increases in Maryland have reduced smoking by 32 percent (double the national average) and saved 70,000 Marylanders from tobacco caused preventable deaths,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition.

“It’s ludicrous ... we’re such a small state, and it will drive people across the borders,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly has said.

Although he’s not a smoker, Delegate LeRoy Myers Jr. has said the result of a tax increase would hurt small businesses. “They’ll drive across the bridge and not just buy tobacco, but milk, bread and eggs,” Myers said.

The money can be used well, DeMarco has said.

“The money raised from the 2007 tobacco tax increase also helped to fund health care coverage for over 100,000 Maryland parents. We can build on this success by enacting another dollar increase in the cigarette tax which will save tens of thousands more lives from tobacco-caused death and raise another $100 million which can be used to fund health care and public health needs,” DeMarco said.

But tobacco use isn’t the only target of some legislators. Among a slew of gun control bills is Senate Bill 539, which would limit detachable magazines to 10 rounds as their maximum capacity. The law would ban the manufacture, sale purchase or a transfer of such magazines in the state.

Anyone committing a violent crime with such a magazine would also face penalties of five to 20 years along with the charges of the offense committed using the magazine.

Also a target of a proposed law is gender identity discrimination. Senate Bill 449 would ban gender identity discrimination in Maryland. The bill adds gender identity to a list of prohibited discriminations, including those related to age, race and other factors. Gender identity is defined as a “gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Equality Maryland, an organization which helped pass the same-sex marriage law last year, supports the legislation.

“No one deserves to be fired, refused work, denied housing, education or credit, or suffer harassment or violence just because of who they are — but transgender people and those who don't fit gender stereotypes, such as some gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people, in Maryland routinely face this type of discrimination and/or violence without some kind of recourse. In order to close the loophole on discrimination in areas of basic rights such as housing or employment protections is state law are need,” a statement on Equality Maryland’s Web site reads.

Nationwide, 16 states, Washington, D.C., and more than 145 counties and cities have passed legislation to ban this discrimination in their communities, the statement said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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