ANNAPOLIS – If Gov. Martin O’Malley really does have his sights set on a presidential nomination, the 2013 legislative session could go a long way toward solidifying his liberal qualifications for a Democratic primary electorate.
The list of legislation from the 2013 session reads like a progressive’s wish list: pass some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, repeal the death penalty, legalize medical marijuana, increase taxes on gasoline and subsidize offshore wind power. Much to the chagrin of conservative lawmakers, O’Malley and the Democrat-controlled legislature accomplished all of these initiatives.
“The governor and the liberal left have hijacked the state of Maryland,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. called 2013 the “most successful legislative session of my lifetime.”
With the passage of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, Maryland will ban the purchase of assault rifles, reduce firearm access for the mentally ill, require safety training and the submission of fingerprints before the purchase of a handgun, and increase penalties for violent crimes committed with “cop killer bullets.” The bill was drafted by the O’Malley administration in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December that left 27 people dead.
Maryland became the 18th state to abolish state-sanctioned executions after passing a controversial bill that replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The last execution in Maryland took place in 2005 and five inmates remain on death row. O’Malley has been supportive of the repeal since taking office in 2007.
The legislature passed a gas tax to raise funds for future transportation projects. This summer motorists will see prices rise about 4 cents per gallon due to the tax.
“It hurts the poor, working class the most,” Pipkin said.
On July 1, the gas tax rate will be indexed to inflation and there will be a new 1 percent sales tax on gasoline. The sales tax will increase incrementally until it reaches 5 percent in fiscal year 2017, unless federal legislation is enacted on Internet sales taxes, in which case it will top out at 3 percent.
The money generated from the tax will be used to replenish the dwindling Transportation Trust Fund, which is used to maintain existing infrastructure and to build new projects.
O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill will funnel $1.7 billion of ratepayer subsidies over a 20-year period toward the construction of a wind power farm 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City as early as 2017.
O’Malley’s previous two attempts to push the legislation — the first more ambitious — never made it to the Senate floor largely because of concerns about the cost to Marylanders.
But a change in the makeup of the Senate Finance Committee, which held up the bill in years past, brought an important vote in favor of offshore wind, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, chair of the committee.
Senate President Miller removed wind bill opponent Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, from the committee, and replaced him with Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, a supporter.
Last year, the General Assembly failed to push a medical marijuana program through the Senate after passing it in the House. This year, both chambers passed a measure that would allow academic medical centers to distribute medical marijuana to patients who suffer from debilitating chronic illnesses.
“I think the public opinion has changed on this across the political spectrum. People understand that if somebody's sick, they deserve medication,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor.
Morhaim said Sinai Hospital in Baltimore has already expressed interest in the program. The General Assembly also passed a measure that would expand the affirmative legal defense to caregivers.
Despite their success passing medical marijuana, the General Assembly struggled to push legalization measures.
A bill that would have decriminalized marijuana possession for less than 10 grams passed in the Senate, but never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Similarly, another that would have taxed marijuana sales like alcohol never left the House Judiciary Committee.
An effort to make the soft-shell crab sandwich Maryland’s state sandwich passed in the Senate, but failed to make it to a vote in the House. Delegate Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico, introduced the House bill and Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, introduced the Senate bill in an effort to help Maryland watermen.
Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, sponsored a bill known as “Grace’s Law,” named after Maryland teenager Grace McComas, who took her own life after being the target of online harassment and threats. The bill passed and will make publicly posted cyberbullying a crime in Maryland, thus closing the loophole that exempts harmful material transmitted via social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.
This story reported by Lucas High, Hannah Anderson, Amber Larkins, Julia Maldonado, Ethan Rosenberg and Jessica Wilde.