Ghost gun bans advance in the Maryland General Assembly, while House of Delegates passes abortion referendum bill

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

The Maryland General Assembly advanced bills on Friday that would ban the sale and ownership of unserialized firearms, or “ghost guns.”

The Senate preliminarily approved a ghost gun bill introduced by Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) and Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) during a floor session on Friday morning, while the House of Delegates gave final approval to a bill with different provisions.

In the Senate, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County) and Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore and Harford) asked questions about the policy, but there was no debate.

Lee’s bill was amended in a bipartisan manner in committee to include provisions that:

  • Delay the prohibition on possession to March 1, 2023;
  • Allow judges to determine if a person knew or reasonably should have known that they were in possession of an illegal, unserialized firearm;
  • Specify that any imprinted serial numbers can’t duplicate the serial numbers on another firearm by the dealer or licensee;
  • Require state police to keep data about previously unserialized guns in a database, which would trigger background checks;
  • Change the penalty for possession to a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years imprisonment; and
  • Alter the penalty for the sale or transfer of unserialized guns, parts or gun kits to a misdemeanor punishable by up to five years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.

The bill is expected to receive final approval from the Senate next week.

Lee’s legislation, which started out in the same posture as the House bill sponsored by Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery), was more appealing to House Republicans, who say the process was flawed.

Lopez’s bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week unamended, and resisted four amendments and a motion to recommit on the House floor on Wednesday.

“We offered several amendments … and there was no movement on this — there was no working together on this bill,” Del. Wayne A. Hartman (R-Lower Shore) “Our friends in the Senate, they came up with a bill that was palatable.”

Lopez’s bill passed out of the House chamber Friday on a vote of 94-41.

As the chamber transitioned from a final vote on ghost guns to abortion access, Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) stood on “a point of personal privilege” to “respectfully ask” that the House consider removing the mask mandate.

“Madam Speaker, I respectfully request this, it’s very important to us and it’s very important that we no longer wear these obedience masks when we’re debating in a free speech environment,” Fisher said.

Jones did not respond.

Fisher was setting up an argument for Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) as the chamber began to make their final arguments for or against the Abortion Care Access Act sponsored by Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery).

House Bill 937 would allow nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians assistants to provide abortion services. The bill would also provide $3.5 million in financial support to clinically train health care professionals from other states to offer services in Maryland.

Additionally, it would require private insurance plans — barring those with legal exemptions — to cover abortion care without cost-sharing or deductibles and make the state’s existing abortion care coverage under Medicaid permanent.

When House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) acknowledged Morgan to speak on the bill, he asked permission to remove his mask. Her answer was no.

“…it’s interesting we have some freedom of choice bills here,” Morgan retorted. “So much for ‘my body, my choice.’”

The debate continued masked, with lawmakers making final efforts to sway their colleagues for or against Kelly’s bill.

“Maryland already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in place,” Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford) “We do not need this bill. This is not women’s health. …This bill is radical and drastic and completely unneeded.”

Kelly had the final say before the vote.

“We should stop stigmatizing and shaming women for needing abortion care,” Kelly said emotionally. “…Becoming pregnant does not take away any woman’s ability to conduct moral decision making, and it should not take away her autonomy and freedom as a human being to make the life choices that are right for her considering her own unique circumstances.”

After an hour and 15 minutes of discussion, the bill passed out of the chamber on a vote of 89-47.

House Bill 1171 — Jones’ ballot referendum bill to enshrine access to reproductive care into the state constitution — received less debate, but the same fervor as Kelly’s bill.

“I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, so I know there’s a political calculus to this and having marijuana on the ballot this year — I get that, I understand that,” House Minority Whip Haven N. Shoemaker Jr. (R-Carroll) said. “But aside from the suspect timing of this, let’s talk about the euphemistic language that will be on the ballot.”

Shoemaker noted that the word “abortion” does not appear in Jones’ referendum bill, called the bill “unnecessary” and said it is “driven by politics.”

House Health and Government Operations Committee Chair Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard) stood for a point of order to note that the chamber has a rule prohibiting members from “impugn[ing] other people’s motives.”

Shoemaker interrupted, saying he wasn’t “impugning” any motives. The two began to talk over each other.

“By saying it’s political, is impugning the motives,” Pendergrass said, her voice growing louder. “The motive is to do the right thing that we all believe, whatever that is.”

The bill passed out of the chamber on a vote of 93-42.

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