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Maryland, Virginia lawmakers to take up road funding, gun control

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Photo - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell waves to legislators after he addressed a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees at the Capitol Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 in Richmond, Va. McDonnell delivered his 2013 budget reccomendations to the committees. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell waves to legislators after he addressed a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees at the Capitol Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 in Richmond, Va. McDonnell delivered his 2013 budget reccomendations to the committees. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Local,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Steve Contorno,Gun Control

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia return to work Wednesday to address the lack of funding for the region's roads and to tackle the issue of gun control in the wake of a mass school shooting in Connecticut.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell vowed to keep the General Assembly in Richmond until lawmakers find a way to pay for desperately needed transportation projects. Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, has bipartisan support in the Senate for a plan to impose a 5 percent tax on wholesale gasoline. But House Republicans want to replace the current gas tax with a 1-cent hike in the sales tax.

"I think you'll see something like that in the governor's plan with other forms of revenue," said House Speaker Bill Howell.

On the General Assembly agendas:
Virginia
-Should teachers be armed?
-Should the gas tax or sales tax be raised to pay for roads?
-Should Virginia expand Medicaid as health care reforms require?
-Should the state ban sex-selective abortions?
-What roles should charter schools play in education?
-Should teachers' pay be tied more closely to performance?
Maryland
-Should Maryland raise the 23.5-cent gas tax?
-Are pit bulls inherently dangerous?
-Should synthetic marijuana be legal?
-Should utilities be required to use more wind power?
-Should drivers be allowed to smoke in cars with young children?
-Should assault weapons and high-capacity magazines be allowed?

In Maryland, local officials have been clamoring for an increase in the state's 23.5-cent gas tax, but passing one in the General Assembly is "going to be a very heavy lift," said House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.

The effort to raise the tax depends on how much weight Gov. Martin O'Malley decides to throw behind it, said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert.

But House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-St. Mary's and Calvert, said the state should raise the tax and "quit stripping money out of transportation to spend on other things."

No other tax increases are expected, Miller said. The state will likely rely on spending cuts to cover a $215 million shortfall in its budget, he said.

Maryland and Virginia are expected to take up gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month -- but in entirely different ways.

Republicans and Democrats in Virginia want to review mental health laws and may consider placing armed officers in schools, but not arming teachers as others recommended.

"[Teachers] don't come to the school system to handle firearms," said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico.

O'Malley plans to introduce new gun restrictions in Maryland, including eliminating access to firearms for the mentally ill and banning some weapons, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. Maryland already does not allow residents to buy more than one gun a month or carry a gun in public, concealed or openly.

Neither state is expected to fight over social issues as they did in 2012, when Virginia Republicans tightened abortion laws and Maryland Democrats approved gay marriage.

Despite the interest of some Virginia Republicans, Howell said the assembly will focus on jobs rather than social issues.

Virginia lawmakers will debate McDonnell's education package, which would emphasize teacher evaluations and more options for parents, like charter schools.

In Maryland, O'Malley plans to require utilities to buy more wind energy, Guillory said, which could add up to $2 onto each resident's monthly electric bill if passed. O'Malley also is weighing whether there is enough support to repeal the death penalty.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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