Banner political notes: Seeking gun violence answers; bills, bills, bills; city spokesperson shuffle; Republicans have ideas; new party leaders

Published 2/11/2023 6:00 a.m. EST, Updated 2/11/2023 11:19 a.m. EST

Maryland, Baltimore City, Baltimore County politics

In the same week Maryland senators heard gun legislation intended to limit where permit holders can take handguns, Senate Pres. Bill Ferguson on Friday addressed a week bookended by threats and acts of gun violence.

The Baltimore City Democrat told reporters the consequential and far-reaching incidents have been disturbing his sleep.

“We have a massive, massive problem,” the Baltimore City Democrat said. “It’s a problem here in the state of Maryland, and it’s a problem in the country. And as a father, as a son, as someone that cares about this state and this world, something has to give, this can’t keep happening.”

Friday morning, Harford County sheriffs captured a 24-year-old Cockeysville man who has been charged with attempted murder of two Baltimore County Police officers during a three-day manhunt spanning the two counties, according to police.

One police officer was treated and released from the hospital after being shot on Wednesday while responding to a “person in crisis” call, police said. The second police officer who was shot Thursday night remains in stable condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, according to police.

In a separate incident, federal authorities on Monday announced they had thwarted a plot to shoot up power substations around Baltimore City. Authorities arrested a Catonsville woman and neo-Nazi sympathizer who allegedly wanted to acquire firearms and rifles to decimate city infrastructure, according to the FBI.

“What happened on Monday, and what happened in Baltimore and Harford counties and what we’ve experienced in too many communities with neighborhood gun violence — more guns will never be the answer to keeping us safe,” Ferguson said from the podium.

The three-day incident that shut down schools, roads and forced thousands of families to shelter in place was a burden, he said.

“The cost was an entire six schools were shut down for a day, the thousands of kids that were impacted, the thousands of families that now had to think about the trauma that was inflicted, about who could be running through their backyard with a firearm, with an assault rifle,” he said.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee listened to nearly 12 hours of testimony for and against gun-related bills, including legislation introduced in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. vs. Bruen, that removes limitations on where someone can wear and carry a firearm.

The Gun Safety Act of 2023, sponsored by Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, will restrict gun owners from wearing and carrying firearms on certain public and private properties, such as sports arenas, restaurants, theaters, retail establishments and hotels, unless they have the permission of the property owner.

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Gun rights advocate and attorney Mark Pennak called the Gun Safety Act of 2023 “blatantly unconstitutional” and “a real piece of work.” Pennak, who serves as the president of gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, says he plans to oppose the bill.

That’s a lot of bills

When we say that state lawmakers consider thousands of bills during their 90-day legislative session, we aren’t joking.

The main deadlines for introducing bills came and went this week and there were 876 bills and four resolutions introduced in the Senate, along with 1,226 bills and two resolutions in the House of Delegates.

That makes for 2,108 on-time pieces of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. Getting a bill introduced on time means it’s guaranteed to be sent to a committee and scheduled for a public hearing.

Bills that come in late are assigned to the Rules Committee, whose members will vote on whether to let the bills go forward through the process. Some bills make it out of Rules, while others languish there with no action. In order to avoid an uncertain fate, lawmakers hustle to get their bills in on time.

For the House of Delegates, the bill introduction deadline was Friday, which meant delegates had to get their papers into the House clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Thursday night. Following Thursday morning’s full House floor session, delegates queued up outside the clerk’s office, bills in hand.

In the Senate, members are generally limited to introducing no more than 25 bills per session. If they get their bills in before the session even starts in January, known as “prefiled” bills, they can get their total cap increased by up to five more bills.

When Senate President Bill Ferguson was asked by reporters how many senators are up against the 25-bill limit, he said, tongue in cheek: “Well, I have three.” For the record, the average is 18.7 bills per senator.

Former mayor spokeswoman heads to Council President’s office

A former spokeswoman for Mayor Brandon Scott has moved to the office of City Council President Nick Mosby.

Monica Lewis, formerly Scott’s communications director, started in Mosby’s office on Wednesday. She joined the Scott administration over the summer from Philadelphia, where she served as the deputy director of communications for city schools.

Though Lewis is hardly the first senior official to depart Scott’s team, she is the only administration alum to join Mosby, who has criticized the mayor’s federal stimulus spending decisions and whose high-profile legislation has been vetoed twice by Scott.

Another former Scott communications worker, Jack French, left the mayor’s office last week. He now works as a strategic communications manager for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which oversees Scott’s public safety initiatives.

Republicans lack numbers, but not ideas

Republicans may be significantly outnumbered in Annapolis, but they still hope to have at least some of their ideas passed in the Maryland General Assembly.

The 13 Republicans in the Maryland Senate (out of 47 total senators) issued a list of priorities for the legislative session, which runs through April. Republican leaders said they’re hopeful to win some Democratic support for their ideas, and noted that they’ve signed on to a few of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s bills.

“Good ideas don’t come with a party label,” Sen. Justin Ready, the number two-ranking Republican, said in a statement. “Our commonsense agenda will protect and improve the lives of all Marylanders.”

Among the Republican priorities:

  • Getting rid of automatic increases to the gas tax that are tied to inflation
  • Eliminating taxes on all retirement income
  • Increasing the maximum sentence for carrying a handgun without a permit, a measure championed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, a Democrat
  • Reprising the “Violent Firearms Offender Act,” which involves tougher penalties for certain gun crimes
  • Making theft of a handgun a felony with tougher penalties
  • Adding more members from rural areas to an oversight board for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an ambitious plan to improve public schools
  • Passing a law that states that a parent has “the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, care, and welfare of the parent’s child”

State parties get new leaders

As Maryland’s two major political parties put the 2022 elections behind them, both have new leaders going forward.

The Maryland Democratic Party and the Maryland Republican Party recently announced new executive directors. They are responsible for running the party’s day-to-day operations in collaboration with the state party chairs (Yvette Lewis for the Democrats, Nicole Bues Harris for the Republicans).

The Maryland Democratic Party hired Vincent Harrington is the party’s new executive director. He most recently worked on Gov. Wes Moore’s campaign as political director.

The collaboration between the party and the Moore administration “will only be straightened with this hire,” Lewis said in a statement.

The Maryland Republican Party has a new executive director, as well: Adam Wood, who came to Maryland to run the unsuccessful congressional campaign of Nicolee Ambrose.

Wood has experience on Capitol Hill with various segments of the Republican Party, including the far-right Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday group, “making him uniquely qualified to work in harmony with the entire MDGOP,” the party said in a statement.