ANNAPOLIS — A bill to eliminate the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board was scrutinized on Tuesday by House lawmakers who pressed for evidence that the board acted improperly when it routinely overturned Maryland State Police decisions.
Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel) introduced the bill late this session to move all concealed handgun permit appeals from the governor-appointed handgun review board to the Office of Administrative Hearings, after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee repeatedly questioned the board’s record in 2018 of overturning some, or all, of the state police’s decisions 82% of the time upon appeal.
Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, however, pressed for evidence that the board was acting improperly when it overturned the state police’s decisions.
“Do you have any record of any crime that got committed by somebody that has a permit?” Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) asked Beidle.
Beidle said no one was tracking whether a person who appealed a concealed handgun permit or the restrictions attached to the permit then committed a crime. She also pushed back that the committee should not wait for a crime to be committed before changing the process.
“They’re actually being too liberal in their decisions,” Beidle said of the board.
It was Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll), however, who pushed the hardest against Beidle’s assessment that the Handgun Permit Review Board was overturning decisions too often. Without data to back up the idea that the board’s decisions were incorrect, her claim was baseless, he said in an interview afterward.
Figures do show, however, that the board’s rate of overturning the Maryland State Police’s decisions has grown in recent years, Beidle said. In 2017, the board overturned — in part or completely — 54% of the police’s decisions, and by 2018, it was overturning 82% of them.
Administrative law judges would be better prepared to review the appeals, she said later. The Office of Administrative Hearings also currently has 40 judges, who are prepared to hear a backlog of 367 appeals.
Cox pointed out, however, that the state police are involved in the training of the administrative law judges.
The state police share information with the judges at the Office of Administrative Hearings on their procedures in processing and investigating handgun carry permits. Its most recent presentation was in January, said Greg Shipley, Maryland State Police director of communications.
Del. Susan McComas (R-Harford), who has served on the Judiciary Committee since 2003, also questioned whether the Legislature had given the current process enough time to work. Although the Handgun Permit Review Board has been in existence since the 1970s, a second layer of appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings was only added last session and went into effect on Oct. 1, 2018.
“What I see is that you’ve jumped the gun here and not let the process work itself out,” McComas said.
Beyond moving the appeals process to a new office, some lawmakers were also concerned that citizen oversight was being cut out of the appeals process by eliminating the Handgun Permit Review Board.
“Having a bipartisan, citizen oversight board that is hearing all angles and looking holistically at a case is a more transparent and open process than government workers rubber-stamping an appeals process,” Pippy said.
In an interview after the hearing, Beidle said she felt the committee was “disrespectful” to her, and she was surprised that the chairman allowed some of the questions to continue.
The committee began to consider a vote on the bill on Tuesday, but delayed its decision by a day — at the request of a member — so it could compare the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate version is an emergency bill, which would take effect immediately.
Chairman Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) said before the hearing that it was his intent to hold a vote.
“We have seven days to go. Yes, we’re going to vote on it before the end of session,” Clippinger said.