Five things to watch as the week gets underway in Annapolis


The Maryland House of Deleages starts a floor session with the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The coming week is shaping up as another busy one both for lawmakers in Annapolis and for the candidates who hope to shape the agenda in the capital in coming years. Here’s a guide for what to watch:

Will lawmakers revisit gun control following the mall shootings in Columbia?

Key details are still emerging about what exactly happened and why on Saturday morning, when police say a 19-year-old from College Park opened fire at The Mall in Columbia, killing two mall employees and then himself.

Police say the shooter was armed with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun that he purchased in Montgomery County in December. He also had a large amount of ammunition and two crude devices that seemed to be an attempt to use fireworks to make explosives, police said. The shooting terrified hundreds of shoppers and mall employees, who ran from the mall or locked themselves in shops, fearing a mass shooting.

As more is learned this week, lawmakers are expected to weigh whether to introduce legislation to further tighten the state’s gun-control laws, which were overhauled last year.

“I don’t know what the motive was,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I don’t know what the mechanism was. I don’t know if the person was mentally ill. . . . I don’t know if this was a domestic dispute. There are lots of things that might have prevented it, but I don’t know enough about it.”

Maryland’s gun-control laws are among the most restrictive in the nation, as a result of legislation that was proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) following the December 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Since Oct. 1, Maryland has banned the sale of nearly all semiautomatic rifles, plus magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. The state has implemented steps intended to make it more difficult for those who are mentally ill to obtain firearms, and Maryland now requires new handgun buyers to undergo training and submit digital fingerprints to state police.

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he expects a lot of discussion of the shooting in Annapolis this week and laws surrounding shotguns, which generally have fewer restrictions than handguns.

“It’s too early, but I’m sure there will be something,” he said. “We call it ‘60 Minutes’ legislation — something happens and legislation is introduced.”

How many punches will be thrown — and how many will land — when the three leading Democratic contenders for governor share the stage at a forum this week?

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) have all agreed to participate in a forum on Thursday hosted by the Democratic Club of Leisure World, a mega-retirement community in Silver Spring.

The 90-minute event is not being billed as a formal debate, but Emile Milne, president of the community’s Democratic club, confirmed that all three candidates will appear together and said the discussion “will be whatever they make of it.”

The primary has already been bitter, with Gansler saying in an interview with The Post last week that Brown lacks the management skills to be governor. Gansler has also continued to attack Brown for his role in the state’s troubled rollout of its online health insurance exchange, while Brown has said Gansler sounds like a Republican.

Brown, meanwhile, last week proposed a series of five debates, including two featuring the lieutenant governor candidates on the three tickets. While Gansler and Mizeur expressed interest in debating, neither endorsed the specifics of Brown’s plan.

Will the second time be a charm for Larry Hogan?

An “announcement rally” for the Republican gubernatorial hopeful got snowed out last week.

Hogan, the leader of the group Change Maryland, rescheduled his plans for Wednesday night at an Annapolis-area crab house. The forecast calls for bitter cold but no white stuff.

Hogan, a Cabinet secretary in the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) , joins a GOP field that recently reported anemic fundraising totals during the past year in a state where Democrats hold a more than 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration.

Will emergency health insurance legislation pass in the Maryland House of Delegates as easily as it did in the Senate?

Delegates are expected to vote early this week on emergency legislation that would provide another source of retroactive health insurance for Marylanders who tried to get coverage through the state’s troubled insurance marketplace, encountered problems and were left uncovered.

The bill was sponsored by O’Malley’s administration and would expand enrollment in a state program that provides coverage to high-risk individuals. To qualify, residents would have to prove they unsuccessfully attempted to obtain insurance through the new Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

They could opt to have the insurance retroactive to Jan. 1, and enrollment would close March 31. Going forward, the insurance would also be available retroactive to Feb. 1 or March 1. This insurance is considered temporary and a last resort, and state officials expect only a few hundred people to enroll.

The bill passed the Senate last week with a few minor amendments on a 38-to-8 vote. The legislation then moved to the House, where delegates discussed it on Friday morning and a few raised questions about the problem-plagued exchange and this proposed short-term fix. Just like in the Senate, some delegates worried that health officials could not be trusted to implement the new program and that the legislation did not include safeguards against fraudulent applicants.

“It is not a perfect system,” Del. Peter A. Hammen (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, said on the House floor Friday. “Some people may game the system. However, I think the idea here is for the majority of people: They really got stuck in the system. This is a safety net for them. We should provide that safety net.”

How intense will the jockeying be to take credit for popular legislation this week?

Lawmakers have scheduled a slew of hearings on bills this week, including several that more than one ambitious politician have identified as priorities for this session.

On Tuesday alone, hearings are scheduled on bills that would allow enhanced penalties for acts of domestic violence committed in front of a child and that would criminalize “revenge porn,” the practice of posting compromising photos of an ex-lover on the Internet.

Gubernatorial hopefuls Brown and Gansler are among those who are pushing the domestic violence bill, while a pair of attorney general hopefuls — Dels. Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County) and C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) — are among those who want to ban “revenge porn.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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