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Advertise on the Tentacle

April 20, 2009

General Assembly Journal 2009 Volume 12

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The General Assembly Department of Legislative Services produces a document each year summarizing the legislative session. This year, I thought I’d produce my own right here on The Tentacle.


Death Penalty: Despite the expenditure of major political capital on the part of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a full repeal of the death penalty statute in Maryland failed to pass the General Assembly. It was a full year of focusing on the state’s role in executions, with a gubernatorial commission conducting a pre-determined outcome study.


The Civiletti Commission produced a report that almost mirrored the public statements of Governor O’Malley; no big surprise there. He appointed almost all of the members, including the chairman. Instead of eliminating the death sentence in the continuum of justice, the legislature added a number of criteria that limit granting the death penalty.


The new limits include murder convictions using DNA or other biological evidence, a videotape linking the accused with the actual commission of the crime, or a videotaped confession. In practical terms, that means it will be next to impossible to sentence a killer to death in Maryland.


Winner: Governor O’Malley. While he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, this outcome is close enough for him to call it a win.


Losers: The administration of justice, and the idea of punishment for committing a crime in which the perpetrator is aware that the ultimate penalty could be death.


Energy Regulation: A sweeping measure to begin to re-regulate the generation of electricity failed to pass the House of Delegates before Sine Die. The bill was incredibly complicated, and was introduced so late in the session as to prevent a full public airing and thorough understanding of the consequences.


Winners: Maryland electric rate payers. No one had any real idea what the cost effect of this bill would have been.


Loser: Governor O’Malley, who tried to muscle this through at the 11th hour. Almost always a bad idea.


Unemployment Insurance for part time workers: Another O’Malley initiative, this bill extends unemployment insurance coverage to part-time workers. A noble gesture, the kind of thing generous politicians are happy to do with someone else’s money. Necessary? No, not by any measure.


Winner: Maryland’s reputation as the “nanny state.”


Loser: The Maryland business community, once again asked to bear the burden of a government that wants to give all to those who demand.


Domestic violence: Two bills, that make it easier for law enforcement to remove firearms from those accused and those convicted of domestic violence, passed. The bill for convicted abusers might make sense and even be justified. The idea that a woman can swear out a temporary order and have their partner’s lawfully issued and owned firearms removed by the government is less clear.


Winner: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was the point man on both of these bills. He told a compelling story of the murder of a family member by a gun-toting ex, and the legislature listened.


Loser: Second amendment rights of people who are wrongly accused by an angry and bitter spouse or partner. It does happen, in spite of arguments to the contrary.


Texting while driving: One of dozens of driver distractions, it will now be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, to write or send a text message while driving. You can still do all of the other stupid things you shouldn’t do, and the existing statute for dealing with distracted driving remains in the Annotated Code.


Winner: Hard to know for sure. Someone might say any fool who doesn’t text out of fear of being caught.


Loser: Any law enforcement officer who has to stop someone and then prove in court that the driver was writing or sending a text message. The driver can simply claim they were making or receiving a phone call, something still allowed under law.


Teen Driving: The General Assembly added three months to the time a teen driver must maintain a learner’s permit. Also, the temporary restrictions that stick with a new driver’s license will stay in place until that driver reaches the age of 18.


Winners: Every other driver in Maryland.


Loser: No one.


Driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants: Arguably the most contentious issue this session, the question Maryland’s relaxed system for allowing illegal immigrants to obtain a valid driver’s license came to the forefront.


The current system is so lax that essentially anyone who applied was given a license. The situation was so bad that Motor Vehicle Administration offices across the state were swamped by non-English speaking applicants; cottage industry’s across the region sprung up to help outsiders navigate the system; and Internet searches for easy-to-obtain licenses led the searchers to Maryland.


A Sine Die struggle to pass a bill resulted in a mess, a bill that purports to restrict licenses to illegals by granting access to a “limited” license until 2015. The limited license wouldn’t allow someone to use it to pick up an airline ticket or to enter a secure federal facility, but it would allow them to drive in Maryland. It’s conceivable that an illegal immigrant with a limited license could drive until 2020 if they wait till the last minute to renew.


Winner: Maryland will be considered compliant with the federal Real ID Act as a result of this change. We won’t have to worry about possessing a passport to pick up airline tickets after this coming October.


Loser: CASA de Maryland, the immigrant advocacy group, invested hundreds of hours of time to get a two-tiered permanent license system approved in Maryland. The ended up with nothing resembling their original idea.


Forced union dues collection: Another O’Malley Administration payback, this bill allows the one designated collective bargaining agent to have dues deducted from a state worker’s pay, whether or not that state worker is a member of that particular union.


First of all, why do we even need to have unions to protect white collar state employees? This has nothing to do with worker safety, workplace demands, or any of the other reasons labor rose up in the 1930’s. This bill was strongly opposed by several prominent labor groups (the ones who are not the current collective bargaining rep), and even more importantly, by thousands of state workers who feel that government has no place facilitating the theft of their income for a union they do not wish to join.


Winner: The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee union, which will benefit from a dramatic increase in revenue with almost no effort on their part. Governor O’Malley, strongly endorsed by big labor three years ago, looks to score big again in 2010. Why shouldn’t he? He’s been the perfect handmaiden!


Loser: Freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to receive a full paycheck for a pay period, freedom from union and government collusion.


(Editor’s Note: Mr. Weldon will continue with his review of the just concluded General Assembly session next week.)


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