ANNAPOLIS - Criminals in Maryland will no longer face the death penalty, but illegal immigrants can now get driver's licenses after Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law those measures and a slew of others on Thursday.
The governor, who successfully pushed much of his legislative agenda through the General Assembly -- including new restrictions on guns, authorization for an off-shore wind farm and a new tax on wholesale gas -- called it "the most productive legislative session in modern memory."
O'Malley acknowledged during the signing that some of the bills becoming law aren't popular and will likely face strong public opposition.
"This session we continued to make better choices for the people we serve -- often times they were difficult decisions," he said.
Indeed, MDPetitions.com is already considering placing the death penalty repeal on the ballot so voters can decide whether it should be eliminated. The group's head, Washington County Republican Del. Neil Parrott, declined to say whether MDPetitions would continue to gather signatures to get the measure on the ballot, though the group has scheduled a news conference for Friday.
|Headed for the ballot?|
|Maryland voters may get a chance to decide the fate of four measures approved by the General Assembly this year. A variety of groups and individuals are trying to put the measures on the 2014 ballot to give voters a chance to reject the changes. Those measures include:|
|- Placing new restrictions on gun owners|
|- Repealing the death penalty in Maryland|
|- Requiring nonunion educators to pay union dues|
|- Giving Prince George's county executive greater control over county schools|
|Source: Maryland State Board of Elections|
"I think it's very interesting, we had a tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and the governor's response was to restrict gun use for law-abiding citizens," Parrott said, referring to the December 2012 massacre of 26 schoolchildren and adults by a gunman. "And yet at the same time, he's lessening the penalties for hard-core criminals that commit heinous acts, and in light of recent tragedies, this just doesn't make sense."
O'Malley also signed into law a measure expanding in-person early voting and voter registration. The new law allows eight days for early voting ahead of Election Day and allows Maryland voters to register and cast ballots on the same day during that period.
Opponents charged that the voting changes could lead to an increase in fraud.
O'Malley also penned his approval for a new law to make Maryland the 19th state to allow medical marijuana. However, unlike other states, Maryland will allow only academic medical centers, and not storefront operations, to dispense it. Two of the largest medical systems in the state -- Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical System - have said they would not participate, citing the illegality of marijuana at the federal level.