Assembly session comes to a close
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 12:04

Medicinal marijuana bill, tougher cell phone/driving ban enacted on final day

by Bill Gates

Last year, the General Assembly ended without the state budget being passed — which is only required by the Maryland constitution — and the certainty of at least one special session later in the year.
    As it turned out, two special sessions were needed to sort out the mess, including new taxes and expanded casino gambling.
    The theme of this year’s session, which ended on Monday night with nary a problem, was: what Gov. Martin O’Malley wanted, Gov. Martin O’Malley got.
    The death penalty has been repealed, state gasoline taxes are increasing and tougher gun control laws were passed.
    The budget passed with little debate, $1 billion was approved for school construction and renovation in Baltimore City, and marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposes.
    With the Democratic party uniting behind him — well, Prince Georges and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City, at least — the governor was able to check off just about everything on his agenda.
    Some legislation which was resolved, one way or another, during the last week of the session:

Gun control passed
    The legislation, which O’Malley is expected to sign into law, passed after the Senate accepted changes by the House of Delegates with no additional amendments.
    The bill bans the sale of all assault-style wepons; restricts magazine capacity to 10 rounds; prohibits carrying any kind of deadly weapon on school grounds, with some exceptions; creates a new handgun licensing plan and requires applicants for a handgun license to be at least 21 years old, pass a state and national criminal background check, submit fingerprints and complete a safety training course (first-time buyers).
    Opponents of the gun bill may try to petition it to referendum.

Medical marijuana
    The Senate approved the bill by a 40-4 vote on Monday.
    People deemed to need marijuana to treat medical conditions would obtain it from doctors and nurses at academic centers.
    The medical professionals dispensing the drug will also be studying the effects of the program.

Better get that hands-free device
    Talking on a cell phone while driving is now a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle if they see the driver talking on a cell phone.
    It was previously a secondary offense, meaning violators could only be ticketed if they were stopped for another reason.
    The first offense will carry a $75 fine, but no points will be assessed to an offender’s driving record.

Driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants
    Maryland will adopt a “two-tier” driver’s license program by issuing driver’s licenses, identification cards and moped operator’s permits to people who cannot prove they are legal residents of the United States.
    The applicant must provide evidence they have filed a Maryland income tax return for the two previous years or have been claimed as a dependent by someone who has filed a state tax return.
    The new licenses will be distinctive from regular Maryland licenses, and will not be usable as identification for Federal purposes (i.e., for entering airliners or government buildings).
Stomping on cyberbullying
    This will prohibit anyone from using the Internet to maliciously engage in a course of conduct that inflicts serious emotional distress on a minor or laces a minor in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.
    Violations could carry a fine of $500 and up to a year in jail.

Stricter animal cruelty laws
    The bill passed by the House and Senate would make it illegal to use a dog, or allow a dog to be used, for baiting.
    It would also be illegal for anyone to possess, own, sell, transport or train a dog for the purpose of using it for dog baiting.
State budget
    The General Assembly passed the $36.9 billion budget bill, which increases state spending by 2.3 percent.
    The bill will reduce the state structural deficit by $209 million.
    It also includes funding for repairs and improvements to War of 1812 historical sites in Dundalk.

Pit bull legislation fails
    The Senate and the House of Delegates were unable to reach an agreement on legislation that would have reversed a court ruling from 2012 that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.
    The House added an amendment to the bill which removed the requirement for clear and convincing evidence that the dog did not have vicious or dangerous propensities and substituted the original provision of rebuttable presumption of  liability for the owner of a dog that caused injury or death.
    The Senate refused to approve the amendment, and no compromise was reached before the end of the session.