ANNAPOLIS – To get his gun control bill through the Maryland House of Delegates, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is promising legislators funding for projects and threatening to withhold money from dissenters.
The governor is expending large amounts of political capital to ensure the bill’s passage. But, critics charge that he’s wasting his energy on a measure that, as written, does not do what’s intended, which is force manufacturers to add key or combination-like locks to all guns sold in Maryland after 2003.
One critical vote on the bill was to be held Friday, and final approval could come as early as Monday.
Even with questions about its effectiveness, and legislators anxious to fix the perceived problems, Glendening is lobbying delegates to pass the Senate version of the bill without changes.
If the House changes the measure, it will be sent back to the Senate, where it could be in jeopardy. The bill emerged in diluted form from the Senate early this week after a threatened filibuster. Another trip to the more conservative chamber could kill the bill.
The governor fought hard to get a bill through the Senate. In the end, he had to sacrifice the mandate that only so-called smart guns, which can be fired only by authorized users, be sold in Maryland to ensure its passage through the upper chamber.
It’s no secret Glendening is using the supplemental budget, which funds many legislators’ favored projects, and other executive power as leverage, said Mike Morrill, Glendening spokesman. The governor has the authority to remove any items from the budget before submitting it to the Legislature for final approval.
“That’s not news. He said he’s using all the resources of his office and that’s the biggest resource we have right now,” Morrill said.
The final version of the supplemental budget won’t be released until after the gun vote, according to the administration.
This week Glendening focused his efforts on members of the House Judiciary Committee, where he is pushing to defeat any amendments offered. He has met personally with many panel members.
Lawmakers were reluctant to say publicly what, if any, projects were threatened by the administration for a wrong vote or promised for a correct one. Legislators feared that even talking about negotiations over the gun bill could endanger their funding.
Delegate Emmett Burns Jr., D-Baltimore County, is one of the Judiciary Committee members who’s been called into Glendening’s office. And while he said he has not been promised anything, a proposal requiring
Glendening to apologize for slavery’s role in Maryland history has gotten new life recently.
After dying in committee earlier this session, Burns said Glendening might agree to apologize.
“I want some things from him and he wants some things from me,” Burns said.
What does Glendening want?
“Gun bill,” Burns said.
Burns, a gun control supporter, said he will vote against any amendments offered by the committee. But, he said, that doesn’t mean he’s swapping votes with the governor.
“But you know how things go, but it doesn’t hurt. I’m not trading, but it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
There are reports, too, that $25,000 requested by Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, to renovate the Cumberland Police Department’s firing range, will be denied unless he votes for the governor’s bill.
Kelly, a member of the Judiciary Committee, declined to comment on the speculation. He is an ardent opponent of the measure and has said he will vote against it.
Other members of the Judiciary Committee, especially junior legislators, said they have felt Glendening’s pressure this week.
“Absolutely. He’s working this committee hard, especially the younger members,” said William Cole IV, D-Baltimore, a junior committee member.
Cole said he met with Glendening “but he hasn’t had to put my feet to the fire.”
Like Cole, Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said he plans to resist all amendments to the Senate version of the bill. He also has met with Glendening.
“The product the Senate has put out is a reasonable compromise and although I don’t have every aspect of the bill, I don’t want to jeopardize it by fine-tuning it,” Zirkin, serving his second full session, said.
But some senior members have said they see it as their job to improve a bill that they say is flawed.
Delegate Kenneth Montague Jr., D-Baltimore, called the bill “very poorly drafted.” A major flaw, Montague said, is a provision that bars those age 30 and younger from buying a handgun if convicted of a felony as a juvenile.
This would mean gun shops would have to obtain a court order to open sealed juvenile records to ensure the buyer was eligible, Montague said. Opening the records would deny adults a second chance.
Montague, chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee on juvenile law, also met with Glendening and told him of his intentions to amend the bill.
“I want them to have the benefit of a second chance because many of them have come from a tough background,” he said. “You’re telling me I have no right to amend that provision? I don’t think so.”
Montague, a bill supporter, said he would vote for it even if his amendments failed.
An even bigger concern is the language in the bill mandating built-in locks could be interpreted as a safety, which most guns already have, said Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery.
But Joe Bryce, Glendening’s chief legislative officer, said the intent of the bill is clear.
“When you’re defining something that is going to be in place in two-and-a-half-years you have to be careful not to draft it in a way that would give one company or manufacturer the market at that time,” Bryce said.
But, Dembrow has drafted an amendment to make it clear that combination or key locks are required to be built-in, not just a safety. Dembrow said he has met with the governor to discuss the issue, but he is still unsure if he’ll offer it.
“It does ratchet up the pressure when the governor calls you up and meets with you face-to-face and says this is important and asks for your support,” Dembrow said.
He said he recognizes that any change could doom the measure because it would need Senate approval.
“It may be necessary to compromise some principles to get some bill through,” he said.
Most of the younger Judiciary members have said they will vote against amendments for the sake of preserving the bill. Any complications, they argue, can be fixed next session.
“I think everyone has a tremendous amount of pressure to push this bill forward,” said Delegate Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, a novice member who has sided with her newcomer colleagues.
She said, while she’d like to amend the bill, it’s more politically feasible to rubber-stamp the Senate version: “If you’re hungry and you really only eat steak and they’re offering chicken, are you going to go hungry or take chicken?”