Headlines: Gun Control, Gas Taxes, School Absenteeism, Obama's Baltimore Visit, and The Preakness

May 17, 2013

Hundreds of bills have been signed into law, including new restrictions on guns, higher taxes on gas, a stricter prohibition on using cell phones while driving, and plan to fund the renovation or reconstruction of dozens of Baltimore schools. Plus: a look at a new Justice Department study showing that the Baltimore City Detention Center has the nation's second highest rate of sexual contact between prisoners and staff. Also, we continue our series on chronic absenteeism in city schools, preview President Obama's visit to Baltimore, and prepare for Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

Gun Legislation: Maryland now has what's been described as one of the nation's strongest gun control laws. Yesterday, Governor Martin O'Malley signed a measure that requires safety training and fingerprint submission for handgun buyers; the law also bans 45 types of assault weapons, reduces magazine capacity and prohibits those involuntarily placed in a mental facility from owning a gun. The measure is set to go into effect on October 1st, but the Baltimore Sun notes that the NRA and several state lawmakers said they plan to challenge it in court. And the group Free State Petitions is gathering signatures in an effort to put the measure before voters next year

Gas Taxes & Transportation Projects: Another bill signed yesterday will increase Maryland's gasoline taxes to help pay for transportation projects is now law. The first hike comes in July, when the tax will increase about 4 cents a gallon. After the bill was signed, O'Malley announced over $1-billion in new highway and transit projects that will now begin across the state. Some of that new revenues will be used to allow MARC commuter trains to run between Baltimore and Washington on weekends

School Renovations & Cell Phones: O'Malley has also signed into law the $1.1-billion plan to renovate or replace dilapidated Baltimore City school buildings. And he signed a measure that will allow police to ticket drivers for talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. The Baltimore Sun notes that police are currently allowed to pull over a driver for talking on a phone ONLY if they've committed another offense.

Prison Corruption Case: A new report is indicating a high rate of sexual contact between inmates and staff at the Baltimore City Detention Center. The study, conducted by U.S. Department of Justice, indicates that the city jail has the nation's second highest rate of sexual contact between prisoners and staff. The Baltimore Sun reports that around seven-percent of inmates at the jail have reported having sexual relations with staff. The study comes after a federal indictment was unsealed last month, detailing a conspiracy where female guards allegedly had sex with gang members and smuggled them drugs, cell phones, and other contraband; the General Assembly is holding a legislative hearing on the problems at the jail; yesterday, lawmakers told the Washington Post that the hearing will take place on June 6th -- about two weeks earlier than had prevously been planned.

Empty Desks: More than 17,000 Baltimore students miss 20 or more days of school a year. Many of these chronically absent students and their parents say transportation is a major reason for their absences. That’s because nearly 30,000 city students use public transportation to get to school. WYPR's Gwendolyn Glenn explores the impact of transportation on school attendance, in this installment of our seriesEmpty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism.

Obama Comes To Baltimore: Charm City is getting a visit from the Commander in Chief today; President Obama will be in Baltimoreto promote his jobs agenda, and try to draw the national discussion away from a string of scandals. The Baltimore Sun reports that Obama will appear at a dredging company in South Baltimore and at a city elementary school.

Baltimore Baseball: The Orioles look to bounce back from two straight losses when they welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to Camden Yards tonight for the start of a three-game series. Tonight's game starts at 7:05pm.

Black-Eyed Susan Stakes: The 98th running of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes takes place at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course today. 

Preakness StakesThe 138th running of the Preakness Stakes is set for 6:20pm tomorrow. Kentucky Derby winner "Orb" is the favorite at even-money and will start from the inside. "Orb" will try to match the horse "I'll Have Another," which won both the Derby and Preakness last year. On today's edition of Inside Maryland Politics, WYPR's Fraser Smith and Karen Hosler talk about the Preakness -- and about recent changes to the horse racing industry in Maryland.