Committee Member’s Absence May Have Killed Post-Labor Day Bill

ANNAPOLIS- In this week’s legislative digest, Maryland Democrats pushed one of their gun control measures through the House, Governor Larry Hogan continued his public partisan sparring with legislators and was called out to define his feelings on his party’s presidential frontrunner, and we’ll explore how an excused absence for a legislator could have inadvertently derailed the post-Labor Day start of school bill in the Senate.

No Guns on Campus Bill Heads to Senate

Democratic leaders, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel County), are pushing three gun control measures this session, with the first, a move to ban guns on the state’s public college and university campuses, sponsored by Delegate Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George’s), passing through the House with a vote of 80 to 54. It is now being considered by the Senate.

Two other gun-related bills have been met with much larger Republican pushback including one that would bar the state from issuing gun permits to individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watch list and would require courts to inform domestic abusers and felons, within two days of their conviction to turn over their firearms and verify within three days that they have complied.

Opponents believe the so-called “watch list bill” violates and infringes upon due-process rights. Their argument claims individuals can be put on a roster without first being able to challenge the designation.

Gun advocates in the state are well aware that Maryland has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, as per the staunch efforts of former Governor Martin O’Malley.

Governor Larry Hogan, who was endorsed by the NRA (National Rifle Association) during his 2014 gubernatorial run, has taken no position on the gun bills being pushed by Democrats, but according to his spokesman, Doug Mayer, the governor has “no intention of altering existing gun laws.”

Democrats Call for Hogan to Take Stance on Trump

The battle between Governor Larry Hogan and Democrats seems to intensify by the week in Annapolis, as this week Hogan told a large group of business owners in Ellicott City to “call their local legislators and demand that they stop partisanship and get with his agenda.”

The strong words from the Republican governor were met with passionate applause, but he got even louder applause when he proclaimed that “the business community has a friend in the governor’s office,” adding “what you’ll find in Annapolis is a sympathetic ear, an open door, a seat at the table and a tireless advocate.”

Back in Annapolis, however, two prominent Maryland Democrats, one with his eyes on the 2018 Governor’s race, called out for clarification on where Hogan stands on Republican Presidential frontrunner and reality television/real estate billionaire Donald Trump.

Hogan has skirted the “are you for or against Trump” question for the past several weeks, but Chris Van Hollen, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Ken Kamenetz, a Baltimore County Executive who many believe will run for the Governor’s seat in 2018, want Hogan to come clean on his Trump stance once and for all.

The closest thing Hogan has said thus far about the national election was to express his general disdain for everyone at a press conference in Annapolis last week.

“Quite frankly, I’m completely disgusted with national politics in both parties,” said Hogan, “Democrats and Republicans.  I’m trying to focus on Maryland.”

Absence Derails Post-Labor Day Bill?

There were a lot of disappointed people on the Eastern Shore who were pulling for the legislation that would push back the start of the public school year in the state to after Labor Day.

The bill’s hearing in the House (HB 1349) was cancelled this week after the Senate version of the bill (SB 767) was given an “unfavorable” review by the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The vote was 5-5, with one member, Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County) absent.  However, sources on the floor hint that Salling’s absence was a planned and excused absence, as he was in Tampa, Florida for a national meeting of the Republican party, which means the vote could have been postponed until his return. If one allows their political minds to read between the lines, the fact that the vote was pushed forward by the committee’s chairperson, Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), who was vocally opposed to the effort to start school post-Labor Day, likely means that a strategic move made after counting the votes in the room, and knowing that a tie vote, would essentially kill the bill for another season.

That’s exactly what happened, and thusly, folks who want the bill to succeed will have to wait another year to see if it can pass.

It just goes to show that in politics, it’s not always about how good a bill is, it’s often about who is in the room when it comes up for a vote.