Ammo tax has unlikely fans

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANNAPOLIS IS OFTEN a study in unintended consequences.

Consider House Bill 1125, sponsored by Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks and five other Baltimore Democrats. It would slap an enormous tax on ammunition sold in the state - 50 cents per bullet, and $5 per round of "antipersonnel" ammo.

Does the bill have any chance of passage? Probably not, as neither the governor nor the General Assembly's leaders are interested in a bruising battle after last year's war over trigger locks. But the measure has provided an unexpected windfall in the gun-rights community.

"A gun-rights activist can't get any better fund-raising or organizing tactic than this bill," said James M. Purtilo, editor of Tripwire, a gun-rights newsletter. "It's really been great for us."

The past two weekends, gun-rights supporters fanned out at gun shows and passed out hundreds of fliers with the screaming headline, "Pay $5.00 PER ROUND Ammo Tax!"

"We signed up a lot of people and raised a lot of money," he said.

Purtilo and his comrades on the issue would surely like to see the Assembly kill the ammo-tax bill. But not just yet.

Bush rating not bad, all things considered

President Bush got trounced in Maryland in November, losing the state by 17 percentage points to Al Gore.

But so far, Bush is doing more or less OK in the eyes of Marylanders. A poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc., an Annapolis firm, shows that 47 percent of those asked approve of the job Bush is doing, compared with 34 percent who don't.

Those numbers are nothing to write home about for most politicians. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, for example, enjoyed a 56 percent job approval rating in a poll released last month, with only 30 percent disapproval. But it's respectable for a Republican in heavily Democratic Maryland after the bitterly contested election.

The survey also showed support for Bush's $1.6 trillion, 10-year income tax cut. Forty-nine percent favor the proposal, while 36 percent oppose it and 15 percent couldn't say. Blacks strongly opposed the tax cut, while whites tended to favor it. Women were split, while men were strongly supportive.

Old dispute finds new life in Annapolis

Forget abortion or the death penalty. The No. 1 hot-button issue of the General Assembly session is whether the state should designate a day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks 80 years ago.

A joint resolution to establish such a remembrance is pending in the House of Delegates and Senate. Legislators say they have been flooded with calls and e-mails from Turks who dispute that their ancestors engaged in genocide and are opposed to the resolution. The Turkish ambassador even made a visit to Annapolis, sources said.

Lawmakers are also hearing from Armenians and their Greek allies, who support the day of remembrance.

Seminars teach speaker that experience counts

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. recently spent time at Harvard University to share some of his legislative wisdom.

The occasion was a conference put on by the university for newly elected speakers from state legislatures around the country.

In all, there are 22 new speakers, and 14 made it to Cambridge for the four days of seminars.

Taylor, who has been speaker in Maryland since 1994, left the event feeling pretty good about the state's legislative system.

Of the 22 newly elected speakers, 14 have served less than four years in the House - thanks to stiff term-limit laws in place in those states. By contrast, Taylor had served 19 years before taking over the gavel in the House.

In those states with term limits, many lawmakers are assuming committee chairmanships with only a few years of experience in the legislature.

"You know who runs those legislatures?" Taylor asks. "The staff."

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