Headlines: Medical Marijuana, Speed Cameras, Cell Phones Behind The Wheel, and Dog Bite Liability
On this final day of the 2013 General Assembly session, lawmakers will vote on issues including medical marijuana, speed cameras, the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, dog bite liability, campaign finance reform, stormwater fees, and more. The legislature has already approved legislation permitting undocumented immigrants get second-class drivers licenses and granting the Prince George's County Executive increased control of the county's school system. More on those stories, plus a look back at other bills passed this session, a look at the FAA's decision to delay the sequestration-related closing of 5 Maryland air traffic control towers, and more.
The Final Day of the 2013 General Assembly Session: The General Assembly wraps up its 2013 session today. Marylandreporter.com notes that lawmakers have already approved a nearly $37-billion dollar budget for the coming fiscal year -- an impasse over last year's budget forced the General Assembly to meet again in special session shortly after last year's regular session ended. Lawmakers have already passed a lot of controversial legislation this year, which the Baltimore Sun notes includes a sweeping gun control measure, a plan to finance the renovation and construction of dozens of Baltimore city schools, and a bill to raise billions for transportation projects by hiking taxes on gasoline. The Washington Post has more here.
Drivers Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants: On Friday, lawmakers approved a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver's licenses. As marylandreporter.com notes, the measure would let the state issue second-class licenses for those who cannot prove they're in the U.S. legally. Supporters say it will make the roads safer -- and ensure that more people get car insurance. Governor Martin O'Malley is expected to sign the measure. There's more here from the Washington Post and here from the Baltimore Sun.
PG County Schools: Over the weekend, lawmakers passed legislation that gives the Prince George's County Executive control of the public schools. The bill will allow Rushern Baker to select the next superintendent, the chair and vice chair of the Board of Education and also appoint three members to the board. County Executive Baker tells the Baltimore Sun that he wants to take control of school operations to increase accountability and improve student performance. The school board and several education associations resisted the bill, which Governor O'Malley is expected to sign.
Stormwater Fees: Today, lawmakers will considering whether to delay the imposition of storm-water fees, the revenues from which would be used to pay for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. State Senator Joan Carter Conway tells the Baltimore Sun that she plans to propose a two-year moratorium on those fees, which are set to hit people who live in Baltimore City and the state's nine largest counties.
Medical Marijuana: Also today, lawmakers in the State Senate will likely approve a bill that would allow use of marijuana for medical purposes. On Friday, the Senate gave the bill a preliminary okay; the Baltimore Sun reports that it would create the most restrictive medical marijuana prorgam in the nation; permitting the dispensal of the drug through academic medical centers to patients with cancer and other chronic conditions. The measure has already passed the House of Delegates, and it has the support of Governor Martin O’Malley and Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein. The Senate earlier passed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana; the Silver Spring Patch reports that the House is not expected to take up the bill before the session closes. Its sponsor, Senator Bobby Zirkin, says he'll bring the legislation back every year until it's approved.
Death Penalty Repeal: The General Assembly has already approved a bill to repeal Maryland's death penalty -- although not for the five prisoners currently on the state's death row. The Washington Post reports that Governor Martin O'Malley is being urged to commute those sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Other Legislation: There are still many bills left to be considered before the session ends at midnight tonight, including reforms to the state's automated speed camera program, a campaign finance reform measure, and tougher regulations banning the use of hand held cell phones while driving. Lawmakers are also working to find a compromise on a bill that would overturn a court decision labeling pit bulls "inherently dangerous" dogs, and assigning liability for dog bites to dog owners, regardless of the breed of their pets. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
Funding For Towson University's Men's Baseball And Soccer Teams: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Andy Green of the Baltimore Sun talk about how and why Governor O'Malley and the state legislature interceded in Towson University's plan to cut its men's baseball and soccer teams, on today's edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Air Traffic Control Towers To Stay Open -- For Now: The sequestration-related closure of five air traffic control towers in Maryland is being put off. The Baltimore Sun reports that the Federal Aviation Administration is delaying the closure of 149 air traffic control towers nationwide until June 15th. That means the towers in Easton, Frederick, Hagerstown, Middle River and Salisbury will stay open until then at least -- some of those towers had been slated to close as early as this month. There's more here from the Gazette.
Baltimore Police's Head Of Internal Affairs Resigns: Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts is looking for a new head of the internal affairs division. This after the previous head of internal affairs, Grayling Williams, quietly submitted his resignation last week in order to pursue a new opportunity. More here from the Baltimore Sun.
Trolleys Coming To Worcester County: Worcester County is getting ready to offer a trolley service to tourists this summer; the Daily Times reports that the trolleys would serve areas outside Ocean City, including the Casino at Ocean Downs. It's still unclear how the trolleys would be funded; officials say they hope they'll be available for free, but say that there could be a fee of $1 per ride or more.
Baltimore Farmers' Market and Bazaar Returns: There was excitement in the air in Baltimore yesterday, as a new season for the Baltimore Farmers' Market and Bazaar kicked off. The market has been going on for 36 years and more than 200-thousand attend every year. The market is under the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga every Sunday through December 22nd. More here from the Baltimore Sun.
And in sports: The Orioles fell 4 to 3 to the Minnsota Twins in yesterday's game. The O's are now 3-and-3 for the young season; this afternoon, they'll be in Boston to kick off a 3-game set against the 4-and-2 Red Sox.