Progressive O'Malley gets his wish list

April 14, 2013|By Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — If the longstanding rumors are true and 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 Democratically 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.

But 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.”


“This bill will save lives,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery.

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.

The bill received widespread support from urban and suburban Democrats in the House and Senate, but many lawmakers from rural areas in the eastern and western parts of the state criticized it, saying it was overreaching and infringing upon Second Amendment rights.

Death penalty

Maryland became the 18th state to abolish state-sanctioned executions this session 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, but there were not enough votes in the Senate to get it passed until this session, said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.

Critics argued that Maryland already had one of the most restrictive death penalty statutes before the repeal, since the changes made to the law in 2009 restricted the death penalty to cases in which DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or video evidence of the crime were available.

Opponents’ proposed amendments, including keeping the death penalty for mass murders and the killing of a police officer or prison guard, failed.

Gas tax

The legislature passed a gas tax increase to raise funds for future transportation projects, but some lawmakers were concerned about how the increase would hurt everyday citizens.

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 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.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the legislature had been talking about a gas tax increase for years.

“We were all aware that in 2018 there wouldn’t be enough money,” Busch said.

Busch said that when Virginia passed a gas tax increase, it became important for Maryland to do something because both states are vying for the new FBI headquarters, which could be in Greenbelt, Md., or Springfield, Va.

More funding for transportation should ease congestion, expand mass transit and keep Maryland competitive with Virginia for the new site.

Offshore wind

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.

“It’s about a better Maryland for tomorrow,” Sen. James Mathias Jr., D-Worcester, the former mayor of Ocean City, told the Senate before the final vote on March 8.

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.

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