ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland General Assembly heads into the final day of the 2013 legislative session on Monday having accomplished almost all of its legislative priorities before what is usually a long and hectic day of last-minute votes to approve new laws.
Both chambers passed a budget, approved a bill allowing creation of an offshore wind farm, abolished the death penalty, passed a bill to let illegal immigrants obtain driver's licenses and signed off on some of the toughest new gun restrictions in the country.
While both chambers still have hundreds of outstanding bills, the last major piece of legislation to be taken up is the capital budget, which funds all major construction projects in the state. Both the House and Senate approved that budget, and a conference committee smoothed out differences between the two chambers' versions. The House on Saturday approved the committee's fix; the Senate will take it up on Monday.
That leaves the legislature in much better shape than it was at this time last year, when debates over an income tax hike and a gaming measure for Prince George's County snarled everything else in the General Assembly and lawmakers were forced at the last minute to pass a "doomsday budget" that contained $512 million in cuts, mostly to education.
Gov. Martin O'Malley called two special sessions in which legislators voted to approve the tax increase and gambling bills, giving the state the money it needed to roll back the doomsday cuts.
Among the major legislation passed this session was O'Malley's gun control bill. It bans 45 different assault-style weapons, requires licensing and fingerprinting for all new handgun purchases, limits ammunition magazine capacity to 10 rounds and prohibits gun ownership by the mentally ill.
O'Malley was also able to get passed a measure authorizing construction of a wind farm off Maryland's Eastern Shore. It was the governor's third attempt at getting the legislation through the General Assembly.
The bill would require a certain percentage of electricity sold in Maryland to come from wind starting in 2017. It would raise electricity rates for consumers because of the high cost of producing wind power.
Still on tap is a measure to allow public-private partnerships, which would give private companies power over roads, schools and public transit in exchange for less upfront taxpayer investment. The House has yet to decide whether to approve changes made to the bill by the Senate.