General Assembly Digest

State lawmakers pass budget

The General Assembly gave its final approval Friday to a $36.9 billion state operating budget for next year that whittles down Maryland's long-term revenue shortfall without raising taxes.

The House and Senate signed off on a compromise reached by a conference committee. Their approval of the budget bill, which does not require Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature, came with little drama — a stark contrast with last year's passage of a budget in the session's final hours.

Total state spending will grow by 3 percent over this year, prompting most House Republicans and some GOP senators to oppose the budget.

The bill, which takes effect July 1, reduces the shortfall known in Annapolis as a structural deficit from what was almost $2 billion several years ago to $174 million, a level the legislature's analysts say is not worrisome.

Unlike the current budget, next year's version does not rely on a tax increase to achieve balance. The increase in gas taxes passed earlier by the Assembly is not part of the operating, but goes directly to the Transportation Trust Fund. The budget holds state university tuition increases at 3 percent.

Michael Dresser

Cyber-bullying bill passes

Online or social media bullying would be a crime under a bill passed this week by state lawmakers.

"Grace's Law," named after a Howard County girl who committed suicide after she was bullied online, would make it a misdemeanor to use a computer or a smartphone to repeatedly and maliciously bully someone under 18 years old.

The Senate gave final approval to the measure Thursday, sending it to the governor for his signature.

Ravens running back Ray Rice was among the bill's supporters. Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced it.

—Erin Cox

Legislation to outlaw shark fin trade goes to governor

The General Assembly gave final approval to a bill to outlaw the shark fin trade in Maryland, sending it to the governor.

Fishing practices for the Chinese delicacy of shark fin, the key ingredient in shark fin soup, have become the subject of global scrutiny. In some places, the fins are sliced off the sharks and the wounded animals are left to swim in the sea.

The ban, passed by the House of Delegates in March and the Senate on Friday, would outlaw the importation or possession of shark fins. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is moving to curb global trade of shark fins because the animals are slow growing and slow to reproduce.

The sponsor of the Maryland law, Del. Eric G. Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, said its passage would make the state the only one on the East Coast to ban shark fins. The law makes exceptions for museums and for the state's shark fishermen, who are allowed to continue landing whole sharks.

—Erin Cox

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