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Votes

Win a Few, Lose a Few

Assault weapons, spam and solar energy.

Although Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15) has had several successes this session, a bill which he sponsored to ban assault weapons in Maryland was defeated on April 2. There is currently a federal ban of assault-style weapons, but it is set to expire in September.

Garagiola does not believe that congress will extend the ban, so he tried to pass one at the state level. It was defeated in committee by a 5-6 vote.

“I couldn’t get six senators to support common-sense legislation,” Garagiola said.

Garagiola’s bill, which would have been stricter than the federal bill, was first introduced last year, but defeated. When the stronger version looked like it was in trouble, he proposed one which would have maintained the status quo. “I ended up offering an amendment to basically codify the federal ban,” he said. “I thought we, at least, wouldn’t go backwards.”

Garagiola is not sure if he will try again next year. “I still think certainly this is necessary,” he said.

Despite that, Garagiola’s had a few bright spots during the session. Two bills which he’s been involved with are moving forward.

One is an anti-spam bill which will allow Maryland police to go after spammers. “You can analogize it by saying you’re putting more anti-spam cops on the street,” Garagiola said. That bill has passed the senate.

His other major success has been a program to continue a solar-energy tax credit. The state currently allows for a tax credit for residential and commercial users of solar energy, but that expires in December.

Solar energy, besides being eco-friendly, employs several hundred people around the state, he said. Garagiola thought it was important to continue to encourage the use of solar power, and, he said, was able to get two-thirds of the senate to agree.

However, in this tight budget year, he found that the senate’s budget and tax committee was not going to be passing any new tax credits.

“So, I tried to make it a bond bill,” Garagiola said. He was able to use a different funding mechanism, bonds, to allow some people to continue to gain a credit for going solar.

“Right now it’s still pretty expensive to use solar energy.”

Garagiola was able to get $100,000 set aside in FY05. Since the fiscal year starts in July and the current program runs until December, the new one will only be in effect for half of the year.” We also put in there that we’ve got to fund, at least, $500,000 in future years.”

According to the terms of the bill, anyone who uses solar panels is eligible to apply. The state will issue a grant, for residential use, this will be 20 percent of the cost of installing the panels, or $3,000, whichever is less; for commercial, 20 percent of $5,000 and for either, if they install a solar-powered water heater, the grant will be 20 percent or $2,000.