- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and legislative leaders last week signed into law two of the most controversial bills passed during the last Maryland General Assembly session: a sweeping change to the state’s gun laws and an increase in the state’s gas tax.
O’Malley said the laws were the result of “the most productive [legislative] session in modern memory.” The crucial laws will reduce gun death rates and create tens of thousands of jobs, he said.
The new gun measure includes a fingerprinting and licensing requirement for handgun purchases, as well as a ban on certain semi-automatic rifles deemed to be “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines. It is expected to face a legal challenge spearheaded by the National Rifle Association and already is the subject of a petition drive to put it before voters in 2014.
Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) said the NRA’s decision to pursue a lawsuit rather than support the petition drive means that the organization is “forum-shopping” and hoping to find a “conservative, right-wing leaning judge” to intervene, rather than letting Maryland citizens decide.
“They know that if this bill went to the people, it would pass overwhelmingly,” Miller said. “It’s a bill that’s common sense.”
The NRA has kept quiet about the specifics of its legal challenge. The group’s “position and concerns will be made very clear when the lawsuit we will support is filed, after the bill goes into effect,” Jacqueline Otto, an NRA spokeswoman, wrote in an email Thursday. The law is set to take effect Oct. 1.
MDPetitions.com, led by Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), backed three petition drives that brought laws such as the Maryland Dream Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage before voters in 2012. All three were affirmed at the ballot box. Parrott’s group has opted to support the lawsuit rather than another ballot measure.
Susan Payne, a Montgomery County woman, has started her own petition drive. Payne said she’s had a strong response from citizens, but her efforts are getting resistance from Republicans in the state.
Payne’s group, Free State Petitions, must submit 18,579 valid signatures to election officials by May 31, and a total of 55,736 valid signatures by June 31.
Payne said Thursday she had not yet counted the number of signatures the group has collected.
At the bill signing, O’Malley praised Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for his advocacy on the transportation-funding issue.
The new law indexes the state’s current 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax — which has not been increased since 1992 — to inflation, but limits increases to 8 percent per year.
A sales tax of up to 5 percent also is added to the wholesale price of gasoline, to be phased in over three years. If the federal Marketplace Fairness Act is adopted, the new sales tax would be limited to 3 percent.
Leggett said that additional revenue for transportation would support thousands of jobs in Montgomery County by enabling projects to move forward.
The new law is expected to generate about $800 million per year for Maryland transportation projects when fully implemented.
Critics, such as the conservative nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity Maryland, have decried the new law as an “outrageous tax hike.”
Darrell B. Mobley, the state’s acting transportation secretary, dismissed such criticism Thursday. “This is going to support 57,000 jobs over the next six years,” he said. “[We’ll] put many families back to work.”