Thursday, March 30, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gun-control measure took another hit yesterday as members of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus threatened to withhold their much-needed support, saying the governor has ignored their agenda.

Among the caucus’ top priorities this year were placing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and allowing the parole board to bypass the governor to parole very ill or elderly inmates.

Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Glendening’s lack of support is indefensible and could cost him some of the four critical votes he needs to get the bill out of the House Judiciary Committee.

As many as 10 of 22 Judiciary Committee members could be expected to oppose the bill as approved by the Senate, which could make as few as a couple of committee votes critical.

However, bargaining and posturing are a familiar part of the legislative maneuvering in the critical last days of the legislative session. Mr. Glendening still is expected to have enough support to get the bill approved if it gets to the House floor.

If the bill clears that panel, some of the 29 votes from Black Caucus members Mr. Glendening usually counts on might not go his way, Mrs. Marriott said.

“We feel our community has given him the margin of victory twice, and he is taking our vote, and taking us really for granted,” Mrs. Marriott said.

Like House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, many black legislators have reservations about mandatory sentences, which are also a part of Mr. Glendening’s bill.

Legislators on both sides of the issue said they worry that some provisions that restrict access to firearms based on offenses a prospective gun buyer or applicant for a license to carry a concealed weapon committed as a minor might violate confidentiality accorded juveniles.

There might be some who would withhold their votes, said House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings Baltimore Democrat, member of the caucus and a co-sponsor of the gun-control bill.

“But I’m aware of no concerted effort I think it is some people trying to create some excitement,” Mr. Rawlings said. “I don’t think it is in our interest.”

“While some of my colleagues have a desire to connect those issues, I couldn’t hold a critical issue hostage in good conscience,” said Delegate Melany Griffith, Prince George’s County Democrat.

Mrs. Griffith said she shared little of her colleagues’ concerns about technical glitches in Mr. Glendening’s gun bill such as some Democrats’ contention that simple “safeties” already standard on the majority of guns legal for sale in Maryland would satisfy the mandate for built-in locks on guns sold after 2002.

“In general, I’m not supportive of passing faulty legislation, but I haven’t seen a law book in my time here that hasn’t been adjusted or tinkered with [given the benefit of practical application],” Mrs. Griffith said.

Sen. Christopher C. Van Hollen Jr., floor leader for proponents of the compromise bill approved in the Senate, said he agreed with an attorney general’s opinion that “legislative history has clarified what would have otherwise been ambiguous.”

Mr. Glendening’s legislative officer, Joseph Bryce, defended the definition of an integrated lock, crafted in part by legislative services staff. The bill defines such a built-in lock as “a disabling or locking device … designed to prevent the handgun from being discharged unless the device has been deactivated.”

“We know what the intent was,” Mr. Bryce said. “If I wanted to define a safety switch, I don’t think I would describe it as integrated or with as active or strong words as they used.”

While Mr. Glendening is lobbying Judiciary Committee members to pass the bill unchanged, other members are frustrated because virtually all other legislative work has been put on hold. Mr. Glendening is refusing to send down his next supplemental budget which could contain rewards for members who support his initiatives until he secures passage of the gun bill.

That is holding up final budget work.

“The governor is focused like a laser,” said Delegate Joan B. Pitkin, Prince George’s Democrat, a co-sponsor of the bill and Appropriations Committee member. “It’s hard to get him to pay attention to anything else.”

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