Legislative Update


O’Malley Releases Budget:
With his blue tie loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up, Gov. Martin O’Malley told the news media last week that his proposed nearly $37.3 billion budget, 4 percent higher than the previous one, is a “jobs budget” that will support 43,000 jobs in school construction, roads, bridges and more because “there is no progress without a job.”
In contrast to what he called the “hari-kari Congress down the street,” O’Malley said his budget is “balanced and fiscally responsible.”

He pointed to our once again top-ranked schools.

“The more a person learns, the more a person earns,” he said.

There are no great surprises. The main point is what O’Malley refers to as the “psychedelic dollar,” which shows for every dollar we pay in taxes, he plans to spend 47 cents for education, 25 cents for health and 11 cents for public safety; 17 cents is for what he calls “everything else.” The “everything else” is public debt, natural
resources and environment, legislative, judicial, legal and other activities.

There were no revenue or tax changes, and he chose not to talk about the threatened Transportation Trust Fund. His capital budget also asks for funding the renovation of the University of Maryland’s Hillel Center at College Park to the tune of $1 million; that was a part of the budget that the Baltimore Jewish Council planned to push.
Stay tuned for the governor’s “State of the State” speech on Jan. 30.

Death Penalty:
O’Malley continues pushing hard to repeal the state’s death penalty. At a news conference on Jan. 14 with NAACP President Ben Jealous, among other leaders, O’Malley said he believes he has the votes in the House; some reports suggest he is one vote short in the Senate. Sen. President Mike Miller opposes repeal. Attorney General Doug Gansler, a putative candidate for governor, also opposes repeal.

State executions in Maryland are rare, but replacing the death penalty with a life sentence without parole may become law by the end of this session — but even then could possibly move on to a statewide referendum.

Guns, Guns And Fewer Guns:
’Malley is also working for stiffer gun control and appeared last week with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a gun violence summit at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. That was about the same time that the state of New York passed an assault-weapons ban and restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns, considered to be the most restrictive in the nation. O’Malley wants licensing with fingerprints through the state police, a hands-on weapon-familiarization and gun-safety course and background checks before seeking a permit to purchase a weapon.

Two Jewish lawmakers, Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) and Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore), both candidates for attorney general in 2014, are seeking even more restrictions. Cardin wants to impose a 50 percent excise tax on firearms ammunition and add a $25 annual gun registration fee, with the revenues to fully fund mental health and the developmentally disabled in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Frosh wants to give the Maryland State Police authority to inspect the inventory of gun dealers, a job now undertaken by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Leopold Waives Right To Jury Trial:
Anne Arundel County Executive Jon Leopold has asked that his criminal misconduct case be heard by Judge Dennis M. Sweeney rather than a jury—this was after having brought in hundreds of prospective jurors. This may speed up his trial, which possibly could conclude by the end of January. Leopold is accused of using police officers to drive him around for alleged sexual activities and using police to compile political dossiers on political rivals.

Congressman Harris Gets Subcommittee Chairmanship:
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.-1) has been named chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Only beginning his second term in Congress, he is the lone Republican in the Maryland delegation and represents the Eastern Shore, as well as some areas north of Baltimore.

Harris, an anesthesiologist, is a staunch conservative.

The Science, Space and Technology Committee has partial or complete jurisdiction over federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While a state senator, Harris was an outspoken opponent of legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On his website, Harris writes, “I am committed to common-sense, multistate solutions that protect the Bay and its precious waterways.

In order to make meaningful progress, we need to make sure that all of the stakeholders have a seat at the table, and everyone has a voice in repairing our beautiful estuary.

If we don’t receive ‘buy-in’ from all active partners, we can never achieve the goal of a robust environment that our children will be able to appreciate.”

However, the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club said that Harris has “one of the worst environmental voting records in Maryland politics.” In 2010, he had amassed a lifetime score of only 13 percent from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

The JT will continue to keep you updated in print on what’s happening in the capital each week.

Paul Foer is JT senior news reporter — pfoer@jewishtimes.com

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