Assembly meets as election looms
Wednesday, 08 January 2014 12:34

The 2014 General Assembly session will be the last for retiring legislators Sen. Norman Stone (left) and Del. Joseph “Sonny” Min-nick. file photos/Roland Dorsey

Minimum wage hike, pit bulls are among likely agenda items

by Ben Boehl

Calling the 2014 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session a “lame-duck” session could be an understatement, as many members of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate have announced they will not seek re-election in 2014.    
    That is reflected in the Dundalk-based 6th District, as longtime incumbents state Sen. Norman Stone and Del. Joseph “Sonny” Min-nick both announced last summer that this will be their last session.
    “It’s a little special because it is the last one. I’ve been down there a long time, and I’m going to miss it, but I realize it’s time to move on,” Stone said.
    “It’s surely been an honor and a privilege. I would like to thank my constituents for sending me back.”
    Minnick said he is a conservative Democrat and has become more frustrated as he believes the House of Delegates has become more liberal.
    “I will miss the people. I’ve made a lot of friends, but I won’t miss a lot of the issues,” Minnick said.
    Del. John Olszewski Jr. is vacating his House seat to run for Stone’s vacant Senate seat in 2014. 
    “[Minnick and Stone] have been good friends, mentors and colleagues to me for nearly a decade,” Olszewski said. 
    “I wanted to personally and publicly thank them for their longstanding service to our community and for the friendship they have shown toward me.” 
    Stone and Minnick join such prominent state legislators as Howard County Sen. Jim Robey, Harford County Sen. Nancy Jacobs and Baltimore City Del. Emmett Burns, all of whom have also announced that they would be leaving the General Assembly after 2014.
    Dundalk High alumnus and former Eastern Shore Sen. E.J. Pipkin did not finish his term and left after the 2013 session to move to Texas.
    Also, delegates Heather Mizeur and Ron George are running for governor and delegates Jon Cardin and Bill Frick and Sen. Brian Frosh are giving up their seats to run for attorney general. 
    While most of their announcements were made in 2013, all of these legislators still need to gather one last time for the 2014 General Assembly, but there is reason to believe that this will be a relatively quiet session.    
    Olszewski said it will be interesting to see how the session develops with the General Assembly primaries moved up from September to June.
    “While it remains to be seen if the new election calendar has an impact on the session — since this is the first time we have had an election scheduled so close to the conclusion of a session — there is a good possibility that many of the other high-profile issues such as the Home Act and the legalization of marijuana may not be brought forward for a vote this year,” Olszewski said.
    One issue likely to top the legislative agenda is a proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to over $10 an hour.
    Olszewski said he supports raising minimum wage.
    “I believe that we can and should help our lowest wage workers with an increase, but we should also implement any changes thoughtfully, with a special sensitivity to the smallest businesses in our state,” Olszewski said.
    Stone said he agrees with Olszewski on the increase.
    “I think it is fine. It hasn’t been raised in quite some time, and I would support it,” Stone said.
    Minnick said he is undecided on how he will vote on it, but believes the increase to $10 per hour is too high.
    “There is all kind of talk. Some say [it will go up to] $8.50 [an hour] and some say $10. I will have to look at the bill,” Minnick said. “As a businessman, I object to a $10 minimum wage increase.”
    Minnick added that he used to employ high school kids at his business with a minimum wage scale and said he told them “this is not your life-time job. It is only a stepping stone.”
    Another hot topic expected for 2014 it the pit bull debate.
    Last year, both the House and Senate passed legislation that would have overturned a 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that stated pit bulls and mixed pit bull breeds are “inherently dangerous” and that landlords could be sued if a pit bull in their complex bit a person.
    However; the House and Senate had two different versions of the bill.
    The house bill required there be evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death in order for the dog owner to be held responsible, while the senate bill does not require there be any evidence that the dog caused the personal injury.
    The House and Senate could not work out those differences and could not overturn the court ruling before the end of the 2013 session.
    Both chambers are expected to work on legislation this session to try to overturn the court’s ruling.
    According to Olszewski, animal rights advocates are expected to push several pieces of legislation this year, which would include legislation to overturn recent court decisions on pit bull liability.
    He added that “there is likely to be a bill that would create a registry for animal abusers, similar to the existing registry for sexual offenders in the state.”
    Stone said he hopes the pit bull legislation gets through this year and believes that House and Senate will work on a compromise.
    “We heard that [bill sponsors Sen. Brian Frosh and Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons] have come to a compromise, but we thought they had come to a compromise last year,” Stone said.