The 2013 Maryland General Assembly session begins Wednesday in Annapolis.
Washington County legislators said this year’s session likely will be dominated by gun-related bills in the aftermath of a shooting last month at an elementary school in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, including 20 schoolchildren.
Delegation members also said they will keep an eye on any possible effort to increase the gasoline tax and any other proposed tax increases.
They said they will try to ensure that Washington County receives money from the disparity grant, focus on getting state funding for downtown Hagerstown projects and try and protect rural landowners when it comes to a new law on septic systems. They said they also will continue to push for a more balanced budget.
County legislators said they will monitor any effort to raise the gas tax, which they said disproportionately affects residents in areas such as Washington County because residents here are more dependent on driving than other areas in the state that might have greater access to public transportation.
“We travel the most, we pay the most in the gas tax and we have the least amount of access to public transport,” said Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, chairman of the county’s legislative delegation.
A proposed increase in the gas tax, Serafini said, likely would pit rural Marylanders against those living in urban areas.
Locally, one of the top priorities for legislators will be the disparity grant, Serafini said.
The disparity grant is given annually to counties with per-capita income tax revenue of less than 75 percent of the state average. But the program was capped in 2010, and counties that were not eligible that year have not been part of the program since.
Washington County hasn’t been eligible for the grant since then. If the county was eligible for the grant in fiscal year 2013, it would have received $6.7 million, according to a report.
Gun-related legislation might keep the Maryland General Assembly busy.
“I think there will be a lot of time and legislation devoted to the gun-control issue,” Serafini said.
“You will see a lot of grandstanding on the issue,” said Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington. “I think we have very strict gun control in our state. The problem is ... criminals, they don’t have to follow the gun laws. We might just see some feel-good piece of legislation.”
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said he was concerned about violent video games and how juveniles have access to them.
“We need to do a better job of what our children are watching,” Myers said. “I believe we need to do a better job of what is made available.”
Another area where there might be a lot of legislative activity is health care, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington. That’s because the legislature will have to deal with how to implement the Health Care Reform Act.
“I obviously need to stay on top of the budget and ensure that Hagerstown-area entities such as the University (System) of Maryland continue to be funded properly,” Donoghue said.
Donoghue said he was contemplating introducing some bond bills and some other bills related to health care.
Washington County delegation prepares for 2013 General Assembly
Maryland State House (January 6, 2013)