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Legislative Roundup: Lawmakers Pass Bills on Guns, Juvenile Justice Reform and ‘Zombie’ Pollution Permits

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Advocates and lawmakers rallied Thursday in support of a bill that would outlaw untraceable firearms, or ghost guns.

Among those calling on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to sign the legislation were Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery), Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery), Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

The bill, which was amended on a bipartisan basis in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, sets penalties for people who own or sell unserialized firearms beginning in 2023.

“We’ve got bipartisan support on a gun bill, so everybody buy a lottery ticket,” Lopez said. “It was our lucky day. Finally, something unusual happened in Maryland when it comes to gun bills.”

According to Scott, more than 300 untraceable firearms were seized in Baltimore in 2021 and 103 have been found by police so far this year. He said that he sees the legislation as one mechanism to remove “illegal guns” from city streets.

The bill is expected to be delivered to Hogan’s office this week.

The Senate also passed a bill from House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) to stop “smash-and-grab” robberies of gun stores, though Republicans bemoaned how quickly the bill moved through the Senate chamber.

The bill would require businesses that sell firearms to have 24-hour burglary alarm systems, as well as other safety measures including security bars, metal doors or physical barriers to prevent vehicles from crashing through. In lieu of the physical exterior security measures, retailers could lock firearms in a vault or safe during non-business hours.

Gun retailers who violate the law would face a $1,000 fine for the first offense and license revocation for subsequent offenses.

Jones’ bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday and voted to the chamber floor the next morning.

According to Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick), opponents of the bill weren’t able to testify during the committee hearing because of the short timeline.

On Thursday evening, Republicans attempted several amendments to the bill, including one from Hough that would have imposed a five-year mandatory minimum sentence on people convicted of stealing firearms — a nod to Hogan’s Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2022, which is stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

Each amendment failed.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) grew impatient as Republicans continued to stack failed amendments.

“One of these golden rules in politics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, just to be clear,” he warned.

Democrats in the chamber then suspended the Senate rules to allow the bill to receive a preliminary and final floor vote in the same day.

Hough agreed, saying that “every action does have a reaction.”

He expressed his frustration at how the bill was pushed through the chamber, from the lack of public input at the committee hearing to Ferguson’s consternation about amendments.

“With all due respect, you may not want to sit here and listen to all these amendments — they were small technical things, maybe they don’t mean a lot to people in this [chamber] — but they sure may mean a heck of a lot to some guys gonna go out of business because of this,” he said. “…This is the Senate of Maryland. We could have fixed this bill, we could have done it correctly.”

The bill passed out of the chamber on a vote of 32-14.

Juvenile justice reform bills pass House

The Maryland House of Delegates passed two juvenile justice reform bills on Thursday, sending the measures to the governor for consideration.

Senate Bill 691, based on recommendations of the bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Council, is a wide-ranging reform effort.

The bill would generally prohibit kids under 13 from facing criminal charges, though charges could be placed in criminal court for the most serious crimes, including murder and sexual offenses. The bill would also set limitations on terms of detention, out-of-home placement and probation that can be imposed by juvenile courts.

The bill passed the House 92-42 in a vote along party lines. Republicans opposed the measure because they said it would be too lenient on children or older teens accused of serious violence.

The chamber also gave final approval to the Child Interrogation Protection Act, or House Bill 269 and Senate Bill 53, which would require that children in custody be given the opportunity to speak with an attorney before undergoing police interrogation. Additionally, it would require the child’s parents or guardians be notified that they are in custody.

Should it be enacted, statements provided to police by minors would be inadmissible in court if an officer willfully ignores the provisions of the bill.

The bill passed the House 91-42.

Zombie permit legislation passes

The Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval Thursday to a bill that require greater Maryland Department of the Environment oversight of facilities operating under so-called “zombie permits,” or permits that have been extended beyond their original expiration.

The bill would require the Department of the Environment to regularly inspect facilities permitted to discharge pollution into the state’s waterways that are out of compliance with environmental standards or operating on extended permits. 

The bill’s passage was cheered by environmentalists, who have expressed concern with declining staffing and enforcement efforts within the environmental agency.

“It’s necessary to reverse the long-term trend of decreasing oversight and enforcement on polluters, which is contributing to a lack of compliance with the law,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Executive Director Josh Kurtz said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure MDE does a more rigorous job catching pollution problems at permitted facilities before the issues develop into a crisis. We must hold pollution violators accountable to the law and their permit limits to ensure the Chesapeake Bay cleanup stays on track in Maryland.”

(Editor’s Note: Kurtz is no relation to Maryland Matters Editor Josh Kurtz.)


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Legislative Roundup: Lawmakers Pass Bills on Guns, Juvenile Justice Reform and ‘Zombie’ Pollution Permits