Puppy politics were on full display at the State House Tuesday as Gov. Larry Hogan signed three animal-friendly bills, including a ban on so-called "puppy mills."
The pet-related measures were among 207 bills that the Republican governor signed in Annapolis on Tuesday — including new gun-control and crime-reduction laws that are expected to affect his reelection bid this year.
But it was the dozen or so puppies and older dogs brought to Lawyers Mall in Annapolis by animal welfare advocates that stole the show.
"If puppies could vote, I'd get 100 percent" support, joked Hogan, who is seeking a second term in November's election.
With his signature on a package of crime bills, Hogan wrapped up one of his top priorities of the 2018 legislative session. The measures include one — supported by Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh — that will impose mandatory sentences for second convictions for illegally wearing or carrying loaded handguns.
Other crime-related bills would provide significant funding for a variety of programs, including Baltimore's Safe Streets violence prevention initiative, a top priority for Baltimore's Democratic mayor. The program will be guaranteed $3.6 million in annual funding under the new law. Other provisions will cut off parole eligibility for repeat violent offenders while expanding opportunities for nonviolent criminals to erase their records after 15 years.
One of the bills makes people convicted of violent crimes ineligible for early release into drug treatment programs outside the walls of a correctional facility. Another provision expands prosecutors' ability to seek wiretaps for gun-crime investigations.
Gun rights advocates had a bad day as they learned Hogan would sign three Democratic-sponsored bills putting new restrictions on firearms.
One would bar the sale — and eventually the possession — of "bump stocks," the gun accessory used by a shooter in Las Vegas last year to make his semi-automatic rifle perform more like a machine gun. Stephen Paddock, who opened fire on a country music festival Oct. 1, killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.
The incident prompted Hogan to announce he would support a ban on the devices, so his signature was not in doubt. He also signed a measure setting up a procedure for confiscating firearms in domestic-violence cases.
Gun rights activists continued to hope Hogan would veto a "red flag" bill that would permit courts to order the seizure of a person's guns if family members, health professionals or law enforcement could persuade a judge that an individual was an "extreme risk" to himself or others.
As recently as Monday night, some activists demonstrated outside Government House in Annapolis urging Hogan to veto the measure. They contend the law could be used to violate gun owners' constitutional rights.
But Hogan signed it Tuesday. Spokeswoman Amelia Chasse noted that Hogan announced his support for the concept in February. She said the final bill included enough safeguards of due process to earn the governor's approval.
Jeff Hulbert, founder of Patriot Picket and one of the Monday night demonstrators, said it was a bad day for Maryland because "we have crossed a Rubicon."
"The fact that it is being signed by a governor who promised no new gun laws is a disgrace," Hulbert said. "At this point I will not support his re-election."
Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, welcomed the signings.
"The gun violence epidemic affects hundreds of Marylanders, and it is encouraging to see the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly and our Republican governor come together to address this important issue," Pauliukonis said.
The governor also disregarded an aggressive Facebook campaign by opponents of a bill that would shift some of the burden of corporate income taxation off companies headquartered in Maryland and onto firms with robust in-state sales despite small physical presences.
Opponents labeled the "single sales factor" bill a tax increase, though it is actually projected to be a modest revenue loss for the state. Hogan signed the bill, which had strong backing from Maryland-based firms.
It was clear, however, that the highlight of Hogan's day was to mingle with his canine constituency outside at Lawyers Mall across from the State House. The governor, who clearly knows a great photo op when he sees one, repeatedly picked up puppies and seemed to enjoy their sloppy affection.
The governor made two separate visits with the advocates and their animals — many of them puppies available for adoption — before the signing ceremony.
"I don't know how any of these could possibly go back to a shelter," he gushed.
White fur clung to his blue suit after he cradled several puppies while hinting there could soon be a new First Dog at Government House to replace the Hogans' 16-year-old shih tzu Lexi, which died in December 2016.
"It's a little lonely around the governor's mansion," Hogan told the advocates. "I think it's time."
In addition to a bill phasing out sales of puppies in Maryland retail pet stores, the governor approved legislation pushing research institutions to place dogs and cats with shelters and rescue groups for adoption after their roles in laboratories had ended. Another measure the governor signed would allow judges to bar people convicted of animal cruelty offenses such as dogfighting or cockfighting from owning or living with animals for as long as the judge thought was necessary.
Hogan said he plans to participate in Pawject Runway, a May 5 event in Baltimore in which local celebrities will strut their stuff with some of the puppies that were in Annapolis Tuesday.
Lisa G. Radov, president of Maryland Votes for Animals, said Hogan's signing of the puppy mill bill makes Maryland the second state in the country — after California — to adopt such a ban. The legislation should encourage Marylanders to adopt puppies rather than purchase them at retail, she said.
There are only seven stores in Maryland that still sell puppies, Radov added. The law gives them until Jan. 1, 2020, to get out of the business and urges animal welfare organizations to help them make the transition.
The bill encouraging the adoption of laboratory dogs and cats took four years to pass, Radov said. The measure was amended this year to meet the concerns of research institutions — including Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System — that complained about what they viewed as onerous reporting requirements.
"It is a really tremendous day for animals in Maryland," Radov said.