Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) found himself in the uncomfortable position of tiebreaker Tuesday afternoon during the committee’s vote on a controversial, but some say trivial, bill to repeal the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board.
The board has come under scrutiny during the Hogan administration, when gun control advocates say the board’s appointees started a trend of reversing or loosening Maryland State Police recommendations on permits for concealed carry permits.
Supporters of the board have noted that most of the time when the board changes the state police recommendation, it’s to repeal restrictions for individuals who were already granted permits.
Right now, the board hears cases appealed directly from the police agency and either side can appeal the board’s decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings. Senate Bill 1000 would abolish the board and send appeals directly to an administrative law judge.
In Judicial Proceedings, the arguments boiled down to civilian oversight.
Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said he was pro-police, but thinks that civilian oversight of the police and military play an important role in society.
“[The bill] is a nothing-burger, except you’re taking away civilian oversight of a pretty important function,” Ready said.
He moved to reject the bill. Instead, the committee voted on a favorable motion.
After Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) was persuaded to vote against the bill by her neighbors Ready and Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick), the vote broke down on party lines – Democrats for, Republicans against – as the roll call snaked around the committee desks.
That made things 5-5 by the time they reached Zirkin, who has said he’s not against the bill but feels the intense spotlight on the measure overshadows more important legislative issues dealing with the state’s gun licensing laws.
Some committee members briefly suggested that Zirkin could pass on the vote, leaving it in a tie and letting the measure head to the floor with no recommendation from the panel. The Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted 10-5 in favor of the bill Monday night.
After about a minute of hand-wringing and quiet conversations at the head of the table, Zirkin said the bill would be heading to the Senate floor. But it was not immediately clear by what vote.
“Alright, the bill is going to the floor one way or another,” Zirkin said.
Pressed by colleagues, the chair finally announced he had voted in favor of bringing the measure to the floor.
“I voted yes. And explaining my vote, I made a commitment to do so,” Zirkin said.
He forewarned the committee members that they would be back to consider bigger changes to gun laws in future years as a result.
“We had a good administrative process in place and now what we’re doing is expediting cases that are going to come to the courts of appeal on this issue,” Zirkin said.
The bill is expected to be debated on the Senate floor later this week.