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Friday, January 29, 2010:

The Agenda:

An election-year end run on same-sex marriage?

gansler.jpgIt's back. Add same-sex marriage to the list of election-year flash points in Maryland.

No, there's not a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, so this one is not a traditional showdown over nontraditional marriage. Rather, it's a fight over "back door" approval, as Democratic Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. of Baltimore County put it so vividly on Thursday.

Will Maryland recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, especially with the approval last month of same-sex marriage in neighboring Washington D.C.?

MD-OpeningDay-EmmettBurns.JPGBurns wants the House Judiciary Committee to approve his bill so that the entire General Assembly might vote on whether to prohibit Maryland from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. That's an unlikely prospect, but the merits of Burns' bill and his request aside, the real reason he and many conservative lawmakers may find traction on the issue this election year is because Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) still has not issued an opinion on whether Maryland's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman nonetheless allows it to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the half-dozen states and other countries that do allow it.

Gansler is entering his ninth month of reviewing the matter -- a relative eternity in the eyes of his critics on the Judiciary Committee, especially since Maryland's highest court has upheld the state's 37-year-old ban on gay marriage. Del. Don H. Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) was among those who charged and convicted Gansler in absentia on Thursday, saying the Democrat (who has spoken in favor of same-sex marriage) has politicized the ruling.

By Dwyer's logic, which he teased out in questioning, Gansler would be violating the oath he took as the state's top law enforcement officer if he somehow found a way to reason around state precedent and recognize other states' same-sex marriages.

Whether the same-sex fight remains a committee sideshow or takes center stage this legislative session in Annapolis, or in the statewide campaign season thereafter, remains to be seen. In an interview following the opening session of the General Assembly earlier this month, Gansler suggested his ruling would come before the legislature adjourns in April. "It's not days, but it's not months away," either, he said.

And yet, why not? Gansler faces little political pressure to rule quickly. He's stockpiling a hefty war chest and has yet to draw a serious challenger in his re-election bid. And, who knows, if Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is re-elected, his position on same-sex marriage may evolve over a second term. Last summer, O'Malley suggested for the first time that may be open to recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

News You Should Know

A majority of state lawmakers back open government reform

MD-OpeningDay-Mizeur.JPG"Resident complaints about a government that can be secretive and hard to follow prompted lawmakers Thursday to outline legislation to increase the public's access to the government process," writes The AP's Brian Witte. "Leah Mack, a mother from Knoxville, illustrated at a news conference how torturous it can be for a member of the public to testify on legislation. For example, to support a bill that would have allowed the sale of unpasturized milk, she made a two-hour drive with other moms -- only to wait for hours outside a hearing room with screaming children as they ran out of diapers and snacks. 'Most of the mothers were forced to go home empty handed,' Mack said with her 1-year-old daughter Hope wiggling in her arms. ... The bill, sponsored by Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), would require committees to post the order that legislation would be heard a day in advance, so people would have a better idea of when to come. They also could sign up to testify online. Another change would eliminate an $800 fee to receive up-to-the-minute computerized data on developments in legislation, a fee often only paid by lobbyists. The measure also would apply to Maryland's powerful Board of Public Works," which awards hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and made more than $1 billion in budget cuts in recent months, but whose workings often remains puzzling to the public.

Lawmaker: Sexless couples should be able to file for divorce
luizSimmons.jpgA sexless marriage certainly can't be called a healthy marriage, but a Montgomery County lawmaker thinks it should also be grounds for allowing courts to grant divorces. Del. Luiz Simmons (D), an attorney, says he's backing the measure "to ease the initial financial burden for couples seeking a mutual, uncontested divorce," reports The AP. Maryland divorce law currently requires many couples to live separately for a year before they can receive an uncontested divorce. There's no word on how judges would confirm one partner's been sleeping on the couch.

Maryland project among stimulus grants for rail
"President Obama doled out $8 billion in federal stimulus money Thursday to build and improve rail lines in 31 states, helping fund high-speed service between Richmond and Washington and replacement of a 19th-century tunnel through Baltimore," writes The Post's Ashley Halsey III. "The almost $140 million for the regional projects was a pittance in contrast to the big-ticket items funded elsewhere."

O'Malley names Senate President's son to bench
"Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Thursday named Thomas V. Miller III, the son of the Maryland Senate president, to a judgeship on the Anne Arundel County District Court," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Miller, a member of the Maryland Parole Commission for the past 13 years and son of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), was among seven candidates who had been recommended to O'Malley by an Anne Arundel nominating commission. Controversy erupted in 2008 when he was nominated for another trial bench vacancy. Miller was initially passed over by the county's judicial commission, but he was later nominated when O'Malley asked for more candidates. That prompted three commission members to resign."

By The Numbers

The latest figures on lobbying in Annapolis, for activity between Nov. 1, 2008, and Oct. 31, 2009, courtesy of the Maryland State Ethics Commission ...

Top Five Spenders
1. Constellation Energy Group: $680,849.50
2. Maryland Jockey Club: $660,000.00
3. Maryland Association of Realtors: $404,701.85
4. Maryland Hospital Association: $397,399.92
5. Mirant Mid-Atlantic: $391,223.00

Top Five Lobbying Firms
1. Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver: $4,148,321.00
2. Alexander & Cleaver: $3,309,011.77
3. Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander: $2,099,936.30
4. Manis Canning & Associates: $1,362,350.00
5. Venable: $1,270,566.00

Top Five Individual Lobbyists
1. Joel D. Rozner: $1,287,174.00
2. Gary R. Alexander: $1,146,963.73
3. Michael V. Johansen: $1,126,002.00
4. Gregory S. Proctor Jr.: $1,105,719.00
5. John R. Stierhoff: $982,762.00

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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 29, 2010; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Curry suggests April decision on challenging O'Malley

Comments

Maryland, come into the 21st century and respect same-sex couples married elsewhere. Then legalize it in Maryland. I'm so tired of religious types trying to impose their magical thinking on the rest of us.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 29, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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