Maryland lawmakers work toward midnight session end

Maryland lawmakers worked toward a midnight deadline on Monday to conclude a 90-day legislative session that included legislation on gun-control, abortion, the development of offshore wind and preparing to open a recreational marijuana market on July 1.

After long debate, the Maryland House passed a bill that would prevent someone from carrying a concealed handgun in certain sensitive areas. The measure, which passed on a 93-42 vote, still needs final approval in the Senate before it would go to Gov. Wes Moore. It would prohibit people with permits to carry concealed handguns in sensitive areas like school playgrounds, hospitals or polling locations.

“The goal that we have in passing this bill is not to chip away at Second Amendment rights, as hard as it may be for some minority party members to believe. It’s to reduce gun violence of all kinds, gang violence, mass shootings, self-inflicted gunshots,” said Del. Marc Korman, a Montgomery County Democrat who is the House majority leader.

But opponents expressed doubts the measure would stand up to challenges in court.

“I think that this bill ultimately will be much sound and fury signifying nothing, when it comes down to its final implementation,” said Del. Jason Buckel, an Allegany County Republican who is the House minority leader.

On Saturday, the House give final approval to a measure responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year that ended a requirement for people to demonstrate a particular need to get a license to carry a concealed gun in public. The bill removes the “good and substantial reason” language from Maryland law that the court found unconstitutional in the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

The measure prohibits possession of a regulated firearm and procuring a wear and carry permit, if a person is on supervised probation for a crime with a maximum penalty of a year or more; on supervised probation for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated infractions; or supervised probation for violating a protective order.

The legislature also is tightening gun storage laws to prevent minors from having access to guns.

The General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, already has passed most of its high-profile bills for the session, though there were still some measures lawmakers were putting finishing touches on.

Lawmakers resolved differences between the House and Senate on a bill to expand Maryland’s commitment to offshore wind as part of the state’s efforts to address climate change. It sets a goal for Maryland to generate 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2031. Maryland is now working toward building 2 gigawatts, pending final federal approval of two projects off the coast of Ocean City.

The bill also aims to modernize the electricity grid to transmit offshore wind energy from the ocean to land.

The General Assembly will be working toward final passage of a bill that creates a nine-member Maryland Thoroughbred Operating Authority that would oversee delayed plans for infrastructure improvements at Pimlico Race Course – home of the Preakness Stakes – and Laurel Park. In 2020, the legislature approved plans for improvements, but the pandemic caused delays.

The measure also is needed as a backup plan to keep horse racing running, if an operating agreement among the owners expires July 1.

On Saturday, the Maryland House gave final passage to a measure that creates licensing regulations and tax rates needed to open a recreational marijuana market on July 1, after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November. Medical cannabis stores will be able to get a dual license to sell recreational marijuana, and there will be additional licenses made available with an emphasis on equity concerns. The tax rate will be 9%.

Lawmakers already have passed a package of legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers also approved putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to enshrine the right to abortion in the Maryland Constitution. Voters will decide the ballot question in November 2024.

The governor, who entered office in January, got his package through the legislature, even if lawmakers scaled back some of his proposals. For example, the legislature approved his measure to speed up an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour to next year instead of 2025, but they rejected his pitch to automatically index future increases to adjust for inflation.

“I’m pleased that the governor’s package of bills has largely gone through, not exactly as they were as introduced, but that’s the point of the legislative process,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat. “They’re all moving, and that’s a real success for any administration.”

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