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First Click -- Maryland

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Wednesday, January, 27, 2010:

The Agenda:

Sex offenders and sunshine: How did we get here?

As recently as Thanksgiving, it would have been impossible for even the keenest of political prognosticators to guess that the opening days of Maryland's legislative session would be dominated by proposals on sex offenders and open government. But here we are.

The focus on sexual predators has followed a more traditional trajectory. An 11-year-old girl was killed last month on the Eastern Shore. The suspect in the horrific crime is a registered sex offender. And now state politicians are racing to the front of the parade to respond.

The latest initiative is expected Wednesday from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). According to The Baltimore Sun, the governor will announce that he has activated the state's dormant Sexual Offender Advisory Board -- "a decision that comes after state lawmakers learned this month that the board they created four years ago never met and failed to produce a required report on the state's sex offender policies."

Curran mug.jpgFormer Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), O'Malley's father-in-law, will serve as chairman.

O'Malley's announcement will come a day after the Democratic leadership of the Maryland Senate released its session agenda, which includes a bill to expand the information included in the Maryland Sex Offender Registry.

The political crosscurrents driving the discussion on open government are a little more complex.

A proposal to put legislative committee votes online was made public in November by Del. Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery), who has a reputation among his colleagues for grabbing attention. His plan got a major boost in December from a Washington Post editorial.

A fellow Montgomery County Democrat soon upped the ante with a far more comprehensive open-government proposal. Sen. Nancy J. King (D), whose seat Ali has been eying, also got into the game, suggesting the Senate could act without a bill.

Once the session opened, Republicans embraced the sunshine, too. Democrats suspect they are trying to feed off public anger at the national level over the secrecy and deal-making that surrounded the health-care bill.

Thumbnail image for mike miller.jpgThat brings us to Tuesday, when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) announced his chamber would move forward with a plan to put committee votes online within two or three days after they are taken. Not to be outdone, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) released a letter -- written the week before -- embracing the same idea and calling for streaming of committee meetings over the Internet.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Chamber attacks first piece of O'Malley agenda
"The Maryland Chamber of Commerce launched an e-mail campaign Tuesday morning, officially opposing Gov. Martin O'Malley's unemployment insurance modernization legislation and urging businesspeople to contact their lawmakers to vote against the bill," writes The Baltimore Business Journal's Heather Harlan Warnack. "Take Action: Contact your lawmakers and urge them to oppose the bill,' according to the e-mail from the chamber. 'A short-term gain that adds permanent, long-term costs is not the solution that we need.' Joe Bryce, chief legislative officer for O'Malley, said the chamber's e-mail alert omits one important point: Passage of the bill would provide immediate rate relief to businesses."

O'Malley reschedules State of State address, again
O'Malley mouth open.jpgThe governor's office announced Tuesday that O'Malley's State of the State address, originally rescheduled for February 4, will now be held on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at noon, write WBAL's Scott Wykoff and Robert Lang. "The speech was originally scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday, January 27th, the same day as President Obama's State of the Union address, The governor's office then rescheduled the State of the State for Feb. 4 at noon." The latter, however, fell on the day Baltimore Mayor "Sheila Dixon (D) is scheduled to resign and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) is scheduled to be sworn-in as the city's new mayor. ... [O'Malley] Press Secretary Shaun Adamec said the governor moved his speech in deference to the swearing-in of Rawlings-Blake."

Maryland not adequately monitoring gangs in prison, panel says
"Maryland prison officials must improve their monitoring of the gang members who comprise 15 percent of the inmate population, a state task force on prison violence said in a report released Tuesday," reports The AP. " The interim report also called for a review of inmate mental health care and said stronger measures are needed to block cell-phone signals and contraband behind bars. The panel led by state Sen. Verna L. Jones Rodwell (D-Baltimore) and Del. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington), said it will make formal recommendations in its final report, due Dec. 31. The task force was created in 2007 following the slayings of two correctional officers and three inmates in 2006."

Bill Watch

With a little more than a week to go before the deadline for state lawmakers to submit bills, here's a few of the predictable and off-beat that have garnered attention so far, as compiled by the Associated Press:

  • Gay Marriage: Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. of Baltimore County is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit Maryland from recognizing gay marriages validated by other states or countries. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee has rejected similar measures introduced before, which prevented the bill from going to the House floor for debate.
  • Mentally disabled: Maryland residents under guardianship for mental disabilities would be allowed to vote in this fall's election under a bill proposed by Montgomery County Sens. Jamie Raskin and Mike Lenett. The measure would repeal current law that disqualifies people under guardianship for mental disabilities from voting.
  • Strip searches: Maryland police would be prohibited from strip searching people suspected of some misdemeanors and minor traffic offenses, under legislation proposed by Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County). Brochin says he's backing the measure after reading media reports last year about a 29-year-old nurse who said she was strip-searched at Baltimore's Central Booking facility after being pulled over for traffic violations.
  • Dangerous dogs: The owners of dogs deemed dangerous by local authorities would be required to spay or neuter their animals within 30 days of receiving notice of the canine's designation, under a bill proposed by Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot).
  • -----

    Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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    By Aaron C. Davis  |  January 27, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
    Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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    How can the Ches Bay Foundation sponsor such a partisan event like last night's environmental summit that's mentioned in the Capital? The event was like a rally to re-elect O'Malley, who just happens to give hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to the Foundation every year. Aren't there ethics rules?

    Posted by: Juliea2 | January 27, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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