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Gun-control vote may have political consequences for Brochin, he says

Next time state Sen. Jim Brochin hits the campaign trail, his travels will take the self-described moderate Democrat into the farthest reaches of northern Baltimore County, a conservative part of the state that will become part of his District 42 next year.

And when Brochin returns from Annapolis after this year's legislative session and heads north, he knows he'll have to explain his vote in favor of the Senate's sweeping gun-reform legislation put forth on behalf of Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"I've approached every issue since I've been in office as a public policy issue that has to do with what makes sense public policy-wise," Brochin said Monday. "I'm not naïve. I know that politically, this wasn't the smartest move, but I've got to do what I think is right. … I can't think about the political consequences."

The bill, which passed out of the Senate on Thursday, Feb. 28, bans assault rifles, tightens licensing regulations, reduces the maximum magazine capacity from 20 rounds to 10 rounds and bans residents who have been involuntarily committed into a mental hospital from owning guns.

When the bill was introduced, Brochin raised questions about aspects of the bill he said he thought made criminals out of ordinary gun owners. Brochin said that under the initial bill, residents who didn't register previously owned assault weapons could be sent to jail. Additionally, even currently registered guns must be re-registered with a $100 fee.

But when he raised issues with the governor's administration, Brochin said he "found something I'd never found before."

"The administration was willing to work with the people who wanted to make the bill less onerous for law-abiding citizens," Brochin said.

The registration fee was dropped to $25, the penalty for not registering assault weapons that were grandfathered in was eliminated, and the administration incorporated part of Brochin's contribution to the gun control package.

Initially, Brochin submitted his own bill that allows guns to be taken from anyone who is committed to a state mental hospital, determined by a judge, psychologist or psychiatrist, and a family member. The governor's initial bill only allowed guns to be taken from people who were "dangers to society." Brochin said they later added those who are a "danger to themselves."

"I just found what they did with keeping firearms away from those who are mentally incapacitated very compelling," Brochin said. "I think Newtown was a game changer, and there's some people on the right who mock what I say and there's some people on the left who want me to ban every gun. I have one of those districts where it' basically split."

Still pushing speed camera reform

The senator from Towson is much less enamored with the other piece of large legislation O'Malley put forward this term: a gasoline tax.

Brochin said he's stunned that with some of the excessive spending in the state's budget, the administration would even consider adding another tax.

"I'm going to be actively opposing that and joining a Republican filibuster if that makes it to the floor," Brochin said. "This could be a huge battle the last two weeks of the session. This would be so wrong, it's not even funny."

Brochin also opposes the repeal of the death penalty, which he supports solely as a bargaining chip for prosecutors to use with the state's most violent criminals. The repeal preliminarily passed a Senate vote Tuesday, and could be formally passed by the Senate on Wendesday.

He said removing it is "just unthinkable, and that's what's at stake here."

"It is a tool that should be in the toolbox of every state prosecutor in the state of Maryland," he said.

Both the gas tax and death penalty fights could prove difficult, as did Brochin's annual fights to add representation to the county school board and raise the minimum amount owed in city water bills before a home can be reposessed. Each bill was voted down in the county delegation.

Brochin still has hope for another passion project, though. Brochin said he plans to rework some of his speed camera reform legislation this week, and two aspects — getting rid of the bounty system where contractors are paid per ticket, and eliminating tickets when the speed limit drops at the city-county line-are his priorities.

"I'm really committed to try to get something out of the (Senate) chamber and through the House," he said. "I don't think the city can be trusted as far as getting this right.

"They've cost my constituents and other people in the city and county millions of dollars in terms of speed camera tickets that were invalid, and there's nobody watching what they're doing."

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