Cumberland Times-News

April 9, 2013

General Assembly draws to close

Both parties note progressive nature of state legislation

Associated Press

— ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly breezed toward adjournment Monday following a session of heavy lifting, approving a medical marijuana measure and an expansion of early voting on the last day, after most of the major bills already had been passed last week or even earlier.

Measures on gun control, a repeal of capital punishment, the state’s first gas tax increase in 20 years and a huge Baltimore city schools funding initiative already had been sent to the Democratic governor’s desk before the last day even started. Democrats and Republicans both noted that the session marked a greater embrace of progressive legislation in a state that has long been heavily Democratic.

With the hardest work behind them well before the midnight deadline, lawmakers tightened distracted driving laws by passing a measure enabling police to pull over a driver while talking on a cellphone when a vehicle is in motion. Now, drivers can only be ticketed if they are pulled over for another offense.

A measure to change the law to address a court ruling defining pit bulls as “inherently dangerous” was getting attention in the session’s last hours; it would put more responsibility on all dog owners and ease strict liability standards on landlords for dog bites. The dog-bite bill has been a challenging measure for the Legislature to resolve.  

This year’s session has been one of the most successful for O’Malley, now in his second term. He also won approval of a framework to help enable offshore wind development. The Baltimore schools bill will allow the city to issue about $1 billion in bonds to build 15 schools and renovate up to 40 others.

Despite the full agenda, O’Malley described the session as one of the most orderly he has experienced. He credited House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, with mobilizing the strong Democratic majorities in both chambers to pass difficult legislation in the governor’s seventh legislative session.

Last year, an impasse over income tax increases and gambling expansion led to a midnight adjournment without a budget agreement. O’Malley called two special sessions last year to address the budget and gambling separately. The state’s $37 billion budget for the next fiscal year was passed last week.

Miller, who has been a Maryland lawmaker since 1971 and has presided over the Senate for 27 years, said the session illustrated a noticeable change in Maryland politics.

“The state has become more progressive,” Miller said. “There’s no question about it.”

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, said the session illustrates a big shift to the left. “I think, led by the governor, the left-wing, liberal, extreme part of the Democrat Party has hijacked the state of Maryland, and it’s holding it hostage,” Pipkin said.