Looking back at the General Assembly

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 17, 2013

While we await this spring’s locust and stinkbug invasions, let’s be grateful for the disappearance of another pest — the Maryland General Assembly.

After deliberating for three months, state lawmakers finished their work having done little damage and possibly even some good.

Sure, the cost of gasoline jumps by four cents a gallon in July but we’re so used to seeing daily pump prices fluctuate that the extra tax bite could go largely unnoticed.

On the positive side, this tax increase paves the way for more bridge and state highway work and a new rapid rail line from Woodlawn to downtown.

The gun-control bill that passed contains the same sort of good news, bad news. It will be much tougher for budding criminals and unstable individuals to purchase a gun. Ammunition clips of more than 10 rounds will be banned along with most assault-style weapons.

Hunters won’t be impacted by the new law; anyone with a clean record can still buy an unlimited supply of firearms. But in seeking to crack down on the ability of ‘bad guys’ to buy heavy firepower weapons, the legislature restricted gun sales and put an arm of government – the State Police – in charge of determining whose applications get rejected.

New restrictions also make it costly to chat on your cell phone while driving. Delegates and senators gave police the right to fine drivers seen holding a cell phone to their ear. Only when stopped at a light or stalled in traffic will it be legal to do so.

Another bill approved by the General Assembly will make it easier to cast early ballots next year. There will be three or four new early-voting sites in Baltimore County, perhaps even one in Owings Mills. Two more days of early voting were added — for a total of eight — and these sites will be open 12 hours a day. Anything that makes voting convenient improves representative democracy. On this bill, lawmakers did us a big favor.

There’s also a chance Baltimore County will adopt the approach to school construction Baltimore City successfully advocated in the State House this year: A joint state-city funding program that permits outdated schools to be rapidly replaced over the next decade. Playing copycat would make sense for the county.

Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to reverse a misguided decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding pit bulls, which it labeled “inherently dangerous.” This makes pit bull owners and even apartment operators who rent to tenants with these dogs vulnerable to liability lawsuits.

That could lead to heartbreak as pit bull owners and their children are forced to give up their animals or face eviction. It’s a situation that should have been fixed by legislators but the powerful trial lawyers won on this one — and the dog owners lost.

Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.