Four Montgomery County Democrats filed a bill yesterday proposing to raise the state tax on cigarettes by 36 cents a pack.
The bill -- sponsored by senators Ida G. Ruben, Jennie M. Forehand, Sharon M. Grosfeld and Leonard H. Teitelbaum -- would increase the tax from $1 to $1.36 a pack. The proposal would mark the third increase on cigarettes in less than five years and would make Maryland's cigarette tax among the highest in the nation.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who opposes efforts to close a record $1.8 billion budget gap through significant new taxes, said yesterday that the bill has little chance of passage. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has said he is not inclined to raise the tobacco tax or other "sin taxes."
But proponents are hoping that the tax increase will look more appealing by the session's end in April, when lawmakers may be desperately searching for sources of new revenue.
As State Treasurer Maryland State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp was reelected to her post yesterday on an overwhelming majority vote of the General Assembly.
Kopp, who has held the office since February 2002, was strongly recommended by a special commission that interviewed 18 of 24 candidates for the office. The vast majority of the senators and delegates who voted on the question at a joint session yesterday endorsed Kopp's candidacy.
A clerk read the names on the ballots aloud: "Kopp . . . Kopp . . . Kopp . . . " But she paused in surprise at one point before calling out a write-in vote: "Parris Glendening."
At the mention of the former governor's name, the chamber burst into laughter.
The chamber had a few chuckles at the expense of Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's), who also received a write-in vote and raised his arms in mock triumph. Former House speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who no longer holds office, was also among those to receive a vote.
When the counting was done, Kopp, who was a delegate for 27 years before becoming treasurer, strolled through a side door to the cheers of her former colleagues. "The treasurer is and ought to be the voice and the presence of the General Assembly," she said. "It has been great fun, and I am enjoying it a lot."
Feel the Heat
House and Senate leaders are battling once again over whether to devote precious state resources to the pet projects of individual lawmakers.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said yesterday that Senate leaders have decided to forgo hearings on the local construction projects, known in Annapolis as "bond bills" because they are funded by general obligation bonds.
In these tight economic times, Miller said, the Senate decided not to indulge in what some see as "pork barrel" projects.
House leaders, however, have informed the Senate that they want to devote at least $25 million to the projects, Miller said. The projects typically include community halls, sports centers and other items that tend to make lawmakers popular back home.
On Ballistics Pushed Legislation was introduced yesterday to expand the state's ballistic-fingerprinting database to include all firearms, part of a package of gun control laws expected to be debated this session.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery) said she was motivated to sponsor the bill by the sniper shootings that terrorized the region last fall. Gun control advocates plan to hold a news conference next week to announce a three-bill package. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, the public face of the sniper investigation, will be featured.
Current law requires manufacturers who sell handguns in Maryland to submit a prefired shell casing to a police database. The casings, which carry a gun's unique markings, theoretically could help police solve gun crimes. This year's bill would expand the law to include all firearms.
Other proposals include an effort to close loopholes that gun control advocates say allow the sale of "copycat" assault weapons, which are banned by the federal government. The third bill would make it a misdemeanor for gun owners to fail to file a police report within hours of becoming aware that a gun has been lost or stolen.
Staff writers Nelson Hernandez and Jo Becker contributed to this report.