Carroll County Times

Under the Dome: Level of debate in House goes to pot

Saturday's debate on marijuana decriminalization in the House of Delegates may have been heated, but it wasn't without its giggles.

The subject brought out lawmakers' sense of pun.

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, got things rolling early during the two-hour debate.

Anderson said it was "high time" for the legislature to decriminalize pot. Then he apologized.

In an exchange with another lawmaker, Anderson said he "completely forgot" what happened in the 1970s.

"Maybe you were inhaling," Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick, told him. (Earlier in the session, Anderson had admitted to smoking marijuana occasionally.)

Del. Ron George, R-Arnold, alarmed at the speed with which the measure was moving, said he wanted the bill up in smoke.

"Instead of race to the top, this is race to the pot," he said.

Film tax credit

A House committee voted Saturday to approve a plan to tap three sources to provide $18.5 million for the state's film tax credit in fiscal 2015.


The House Ways and Means Committee voted to raise the allocation for the credit in the general fund from $7.5 million to $11 million.

Under the plan the committee approved, an additional $7.5 million could be drawn from the state's Sunny Day Fund and Cultural Arts Fund.


A different version of the measure approved by the Senate would provide $18.5 million for the credit out of the general fund alone.

The House committee also agreed to an amended bill that would allow the Department of Business and Economic Development to recoup money from a film production company if that company left Maryland before finishing the work for which tax credits had been awarded.

The economic development department could also make contracts with film production companies that would give the state guarantees, the measure's supporters said.

Media Rights Capital, the production company that makes the Netflix television series "House of Cards" in Maryland, had threatened to leave the state unless more tax credits were provided. Lawmakers cited this as an example of the uncertainties allowed by the current laws.

The tax credit measure now heads to the full House of Delegates. For it to become law, the House and Senate must pass identical versions before the end of the General Assembly's 90-day session on Monday.

"House of Cards" is already on track to be granted $30 million in tax credits through fiscal 2016, according to the state.

Del. Ron George, R-Arnold, was one of several committee members who voted against the measure on Saturday.

George referred to "House of Cards" star Kevin Spacey's March visit with lawmakers at Red Red Wine Bar in Annapolis: "I saw a lot of people go gaga over a star."


The legislature shouldn't pass such a measure when many small businesses are struggling, he said.

"Small businesses need some help too," said George, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor.

Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George's, worked some TV criticism into her opposition to the bill. "'House of Cards' has, in my opinion, gone downhill. What if the show gets canceled?"

But the majority on the committee believed the film tax credits are a good investment.

Del. Frank Turner, D-Howard, the vice chairman of the Ways and Means committee, noted that the old General Electric building in Columbia sat vacant before it was used for the HBO series "Veep."

"Now we have trucks out there, parking lots that are full," Turner said. "I think it really kind of solves a problem."


Pay raises

State Sen. David Brinkley said that before the Senate ended its Saturday morning session he had 12 of the 16 signatures he needs to allow a vote on the Senate floor on automatic pay raises for legislators.

Brinkley, R-Carroll, said he knew having such a vote didn't mean the Senate would reject the scheduled raises. But there should be a vote, he said.

A unsuccessful Republican move to allow a vote on the salaries was made earlier in the week in the House by Del. Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park.

Supporters of the House move said they thought the effort was successful because there was a vote, even if it was on Vitale's procedural measure, not on the salaries themselves.

Rules committees in the House and Senate have refused to allow votes on resolutions to reject the pay raises.

If no action is taken before the end of the day Monday, lawmakers' salaries will climb from $43,500 to $50,330 over the four years starting on Jan. 1, 2015.


Brinkley asked lawmakers to sign the petition before Senate session adjourned.

He said that if the petition gets 16 signatures, under Senate rules the measure can go to the floor. Even if it passed the Senate, it would likely be held up by the House.

But Brinkley said the question wasn't so much "whether or not the pay should go up."

"There should be a vote," Brinkley said. "I think what constituents are looking for is a vote."