Md. lawmakers still barking over dog bite bill

April 12, 2013

The debate everyone was talking about on the last day of Maryland’s legislative session — over a bill to establish stricter standards for liability for dog bites — has continued in the days since the Maryland General Assembly emptied out.

Lawmakers have expressed a strong desire to amend a court decision creating strict standards of liability for pit bull owners and the landlords of pit bull owners.

Early on Monday, the House and Senate released a compromise bill, which would create strict liability for injuries caused by dogs of all breeds to persons under the age of 13. It failed late Monday night in the House of Delegates.

After a debate on the bill between two Montgomery county lawmakers turned into a shouting match, a vote on the bill was delayed, and it never happened before the midnight adjournment.

Instead, Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) ran out the clock, allowing the House to spend the last half hour of session thanking their staff and issuing happy birthdays to their colleagues.

Now, one of the bill’s most vocal opponents, Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) has asked Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to call a special session in order for the legislature to amend the court’s decision.

In a letter to the governor sent Thursday, Kramer asks O’Malley “to demonstrate your proven leadership and, in the immediate future, call the Maryland General Assembly into a one-day special session.”

“The state legislature has made a sincere effort to correct (the court decision),” Kramer said. “Unfortunately, legitimate differences of opinion, as to the appropriate standard for civil liability for dog OWNERS, whose dog inflicts a bite injury on another person, has kept a legislative resolution to this issue from achieving passage.”

In the one-day special session, Kramer said, lawmakers could swiftly agree to a bill that “simply restores the common law standard.”

“Governor O’Malley, I implore you to stop the carnage,” Kramer said.

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), who was responsible for ushering the Senate compromise through the House, said she was surprised that Kramer wanted to return to work on a bill.

“Chutzpah,” she said. “After he spent so much time trying to kill the conference report, I’m surprised he wants us all to come back now that it’s all over.”

“It’s awful that we didn’t get it done. It’s keeping me up at night, but I don’t know if bringing us all back is ultimately the solution. It’s pretty ridiculous,” Dumais said.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that O’Malley would confer with lawmakers before making a decision.

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