ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers were in a rush to get bills out of committee and over the hump to the floor for a vote on Wednesday, but Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee tried a different tactic to slow-walk a bill they oppose.
Republican members of the committee used a series of procedural "holds" to delay a vote on a bill that would eliminate the state's Handgun Permit Review Board and keep it from advancing to the full House of Delegates, where Democrats have a firm majority.
"It's a very consequential bill. ... I know there's a lot of constituents back home who care about this bill, as I do," said Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll).
Cox used his hold on Wednesday after the committee rejected a pair of amendments from him and Del. Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore County). The amendments could have forced the bill to return to the Senate after the House considered it.
Chairman Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) created the "hold" system this session. It allows each member to delay a vote or consideration of a piece of legislation. However, he told the Republican members that he reserved the right to call as many voting sessions as he wanted.
In the third voting session of the day, the committee voted 13-7 to advance the bills.
The committee also voted to conform the House version of the bill to the Senate's version, which passed 30-16 in March. Both are now emergency bills, which would immediately move concealed handgun permit appeals from the governor-appointed board to the Office of Administrative Hearings, if the bills pass.
The decision to overhaul the state's human trafficking laws, on the other hand, was unanimous.
The Senate gave its final approval to a bill by Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) that should help Maryland state’s attorneys more easily and clearly prosecute those who force, threaten, coerce or defraud people into prostitution, forced marriage or other sexual acts.
"It's a huge piece of legislation. It's statewide. It completely redoes the human trafficking statute," Pippy said on Wednesday.
The bill adds human trafficking to a list of "crimes of violence," which carry stricter sentencing and parole standards. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) sought to do this in separate legislation, which was ultimately rolled into Pippy's bill.
"I think it's an important issue for all Marylanders. We're seeing more and more cases of human trafficking across the state," Pippy said.
Del. Karen Lewis Young's Patient's Bill of Rights has officially passed and is on its way to the governor's desk.
"I wasn't surprised that it went through," said Lewis Young (D-Frederick). "I was surprised that it went through in the form that was so much in favor of what the advocacy groups supported. And I was surprised that the hospital association compromised as much as they did. They have not in years past."
Although the Maryland Hospital Association had some qualms about the original House bill, the organization was in support of it, said spokeswoman Amy Goodwin in an email. Lewis Young said she met with members of the association to discuss language, such as whether hospitals could offer the bill of rights or must provide them to patients.
The hospital association wanted amendments that made sure the bill would allow hospitals flexibility in adapting the bill to meet their patient needs.
"Maryland hospitals strongly support patients’ rights to information, fair treatment and autonomy over medical decisions, among other rights. They view patients and family members as an essential part of their health care teams. That partnership is apparent in each hospital’s patient bill of rights," Nicole Stallings, senior vice president of government affairs and policy for the association, said in a statement.
Banned in Maryland
The General Assembly also took final action on three bans on Wednesday.
Minors under the age of 18 will no longer be able to use commercial tanning beds, nor will young adults under the age of 21 be able to purchase cigarettes, cigars or electronic cigarette devices unless they present a military ID.
The exemption for military personnel was added by Hough, who served in the U.S. Air Force as a teen and worked on thermonuclear missiles.
"I don't think people should smoke. I'm not a smoking advocate by any means," Hough said in an interview afterward.
His issue with the bill, as it was originally drafted, was that at age 18 the state determines teenagers are old enough to marry, divorce and fight in the military. If teenagers are old enough to those things but not decide to smoke, then there are inconsistencies in the law, he said.
The Senate and House also cast their final votes to ban plastic foam food containers statewide starting July 1, 2020.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) fended off two last-minute amendments to create a waiver system and to exempt churches and civic organizations from the ban. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he was skeptical that organizations would be prosecuted under the ban, but that the law would be a means to phase out the product's use in Maryland.
"I've been working on this bill for three years and I'm very proud that Maryland is at the cutting edge of banning foam, which is so bad for our environment," Kagan said.
Staff writer Heather Mongilio contributed to this report.