With most of the heavy lifting behind them, Maryland legislators will convene Monday for a final frenzy of lawmaking before the 2013 General Assembly session adjourns at midnight.
Bills that could affect every dog owner and every driver who talks on a cell phone still await approval, as does legislation that would craft tighter rules on speed cameras, legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and put new restrictions on government speed camera programs.
Most lawmakers said these remaining issues and scores more will likely find resolution by the end of the day.
"We're in pretty good shape," House Speaker Michael E. Busch said as his chamber adjourned Saturday afternoon.
In the past 89 days, lawmakers have passed nearly 500 of the more than 2,600 bills introduced this year, including high-profile, controversial bills to repeal the death penalty, enact strict gun laws, raise the gas tax and finance $1 billion in borrowing to build new Baltimore City schools.
The House of Delegates decided not to convene until noon, a sign of confidence that all the necessary work will be done. Sen. President Mike V. Miller told reporters last week his chamber might adjourn before midnight, a pointed contrast to last year's session that ended in a budget crisis and led to two special sessions.
House Majority Leader Kumar Barve predicted "the polar opposite of last year, which was a colossal mess."
Liability for dog bites
The most controversy, lawmakers said, comes from a bill whose failure could lead to evictions for pit bull owners and whose passage would affect every dog owner in Maryland.
The bill attempts to undo a 2012 Court of Appeals ruling that declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous," holding both their owners and landlords where the dogs lived responsible if a dog bites.
Animal activists found the pit bull ruling unfair for singling out one breed. Landlords objected to the high liability it created, and some began evicting pit bull owners who wouldn't give away their pets.
Lawmakers responded by attempting to establish a legal standard for dog bite cases that favors victims, regardless of the dog's breed, and to leave landlords without so much responsibility.
But each chamber took a different approach to balancing victims' rights to restitution with how much burden should be placed on dog owners to prove they couldn't have known their pets would bite someone. For more than a month, key decision-makers have been at impasse.
A committee of lawmakers is expected to meet again Monday in hopes of reaching a compromise, which is considered likely despite the extended public acrimony among negotiators.
"The will is there to get it resolved," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat on the committee.
Drivers on cell phones
Lawmakers also appear poised to allow police to pull over and ticket drivers for talking on hand-held cell phones. Currently motorists can be ticketed for talking on the phone, but they cannot be stopped unless they are breaking another traffic law.
The House and Senate haven't formally agreed on several matters, including whether motorists could chat at a stoplight and whether a judge could issue a fine greater than $75 for a first offense.
Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat whose committee oversaw the cell phone bill, said she expects the House to accept the Senate's version of the bill on Monday. That bill would bar all hand-held phone chats when a vehicle is "traveling in a roadway" and not specify a fine.