Proposals to stiffen Maryland's penalty for carrying illegal handguns today narrowly survived a voting test in a key House committee when the committee members rejected a measure to kill the two gun bills.
Now the committee must decide which of two bills to approve -- Gov. Harry Hughes' proposal for a one-year jail term for carrying illegal handguns, or a substantially weaker Senate version of the bill, including a self-defense loophole.
The members of the House Judiciary Committee, by an 11-to-10 vote, turned down a request to disapprove the handgun bills, leaving the question of which bill to report on favorably and what form it will take. The committee will begin work on the proposal at its next meeting, still unscheduled because of the House's hectic pace.
The vote today was considered a significant first-round victory by gun control supporters, because the Judiciary committee, under the leadership of its crusty and conservative chairman, Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), traditionally has rejected mandatory sentence laws. Now committee supporters of tougher gun laws said they will propose amendments to stiffen the Senate bill, while being careful not to lose their current razor-thin one-vote majority favoring handgun legislation this year.
"That Senate bill does nothing," said Del. Andrew Joseph Burns (D-Baltimore). "But we can't make it too tough."
A committee of Prince George's County delegates launched a counterattack today in their lively turf fight with neighboring Montgomery County over the future of Takoma Park.
The little city currently is split between the two counties, and Montgomery is backing a bill to let the residents on the Prince George's side decide whether to join Montgomery. It only makes sense, Montgomery delegates say, since two-thirds of Takoma Park already is in Montgomery.
Now the Prince George's delegates who deal with bicounty matters have altered that proposal so that the Montgomery residents would have to decide whether they wanted to join Prince George's.
"We have a lower tax rate, excellent schools, a rich tradition," said Del. Timothy Maloney (D-Prince George's), who stands to become a Montgomery County delegate under Montgomery's version of the bill. "Unification is not a bad idea. But why shouldn't (the Montgomery portion) become a part of Prince George's? We don't have liquor scandals. We don't have reapportionment scandals."
The House of Delegates today gave final approval to a bill, hotly opposed by the petroleum industry, which prohibits oil firms from passing through the cost of their credit card operations to their dealers.
The bill, passed by a 114-to-19 vote, was sparked by Texaco Oil Co.'s announcement that it would charge its dealers a 3 percent fee on all credit card sales, said Del. Ida Ruben (D-Montgomery). Ruben said that cost would merely be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices at the pump, and if the companies couldn't afford credit operations, they shouldn't have them.
With increasing use of credit cards by motorists, and the high cost of borrowing money, some oil firm representatives said they were at an unfair disadvantage with those service stations that do not offer credit cards. As a result of this bill, they said, their gasoline-buying customers may end up paying more for gasoline, since the wholesale price may rise anyway to make up for the companies' credit card losses.