Senate votes to address gun-lock bill

Maneuver sidesteps committee where legislation had stalled

Glendening's revised plan

Opponents threaten filibuster to delay or derail measure

March 24, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's embattled gun safety bill won a key test vote yesterday that showed it has a good chance of passage if a threatened Senate filibuster can be broken.

After an acrimonious debate, the Senate voted to use a rare parliamentary maneuver to pluck the bill from a committee that would not approve the legislation.

The action means the bill will be scheduled for a preliminary vote on the Senate floor today -- but opponents said they would use delaying tactics to derail the measure.

"We will filibuster until the bill is either killed or amended in the proper fashion," said Sen. Timothy F. Ferguson, a Carroll County Republican.

Supporters of Glendening's proposal say rounding up the votes to cut off debate will be a challenge for the governor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The 26-19 margin in yesterday's vote indicates the governor is likely to have the 24 votes needed to pass a scaled-back version of the legislation.

But ending a filibuster requires 32 votes -- a total that could be difficult to achieve without further compromise.

Miller predicted the Senate will eventually pass a bill and avoid gridlock.

"Somehow, some way, I'm going to see that this matter comes to a vote in the Maryland Senate," he said.

To bypass the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senate leaders invoked a rarely used rule allowing a majority of the Senate to pull a bill out of a committee.

The maneuver, which touched off an outcry from Republicans, succeeded after Miller flexed his considerable muscle as Senate president.

Each time a senator rose with a point of order questioning Miller's interpretation of the rules, he swatted it down.

"This whole process is totally inappropriate," said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, who said he could probably vote for the bill itself, pleaded with senators not to approve a maneuver the Senate has traditionally avoided.

"We operate on a committee system down here. This is a direct attack on the committee system," the Howard County Republican said.

But Miller said the move was entirely within Senate rules. "The public feels their elected representatives should vote on this issue and not let it languish in committee," he said.

The loudest silence in the chamber was that of Sen. Walter M. Baker, chairman of Judicial Proceedings, who voted against Miller's move but spoke not a word in protest.

The conservative Cecil County Democrat has promised to vote against the bill, but he clearly played a role in shaping the compromise proposal that Miller is bringing to the floor.

The governor's original bill would have required that any handguns sold in the state include built-in locks as of January 2002.

It also would have set up a commission to determine when a new generation of personalized guns was available, allowing the governor to impose a ban on conventional handgun sales as early as 2003.

These so-called "smart guns" would use such technologies as radio signals or fingerprint identification to prevent unauthorized users from firing them.

The compromise between Senate leaders and the governor jettisons the "smart guns" provision but retains the built-in lock requirement, which would be pushed back to January 2003.

If the bill passes, Maryland would be the first state to tell gun makers they have to equip their products with such devices.

After the vote, Glendening said that even with the amendments, the legislation would be "the strongest anti-gun-violence bill in the nation."

He praised Senate leaders and promised an all-out effort to break the anticipated filibuster. If the bill can pass the Senate, it is expected to have an easier time in the House.

Republicans vowed to come to the floor today with stacks of proposed amendments, which they said they are prepared to discuss at length.

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