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First Click -- Maryland

First Click

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Thursday, February 4, 2010:

The Agenda

hearing room.jpgPlodding through the slog

It happened Wednesday. Just one day removed from the pomp of the (rescheduled, and rescheduled again) State of the State address, there was suddenly no blockbuster event looming on the calendar in Annapolis. No opening gavel, no state budget release, no visiting VIPs. In some ways, not even much more wondering about the Maryland governor's race, with most now assuming it's a question of when, not if, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announces a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

The excitement, however, of that race remains months away. And for the foreseeable future, the drone of committee hearings will rule in Annapolis. And they won't even come with many lively protests. Planned union rallies and demonstrations by advocates for the disabled fizzled less than a day after O'Malley released his spending plan with news that he would shuffle $1 billion between state accounts to keep from having to make deeper rounds of layoffs or cuts to state services.

No, all the distractions are now gone, and what remains is the work of digging into hundreds of bills on topics such as whether mail-order bride companies should perform background checks on men seeking women from Russia; if sexless marriages should function as legal precursors to divorce, and if the state should force condo associations to allow residents to hang clothes lines. Okay, well, maybe not all the distractions are gone (and if you were wondering, yes, state lawmakers have authored bills on all of those topics and many more).

Even in hearings on some of those entertaining topics, it has been clear this week that lawmakers have not struck the right caffeine-fueled balance for the long haul. Some have been visibly working to stay awake each afternoon in warm committee rooms following wine-filled lunches with special interests.

It is fair to say that in between the fluff, in those committee rooms the monotonous and heavy work of eking out compromises has also begun, and that the tricky business of following the real deal-making in Annapolis is underway.

Will death-penalty politics or election-year grandstanding prevent lawmakers from responding seriously to holes exposed in the state's sex offender laws? What will be the political tradeoff should lawmakers agree to reset funding formulas that would send millions more to Montgomery and far less to Prince George's next year? And what about those pesky school funding issues and questions about unions obstructing reforms sought by President Obama? If -- and how many -- of these important issues get settled in an election year remains to be seen.

So stay tuned, and stay with First Click. We'll be watching.

-- Aaron C. Davis


News You Should Know

Same sex marriage ban blocked

Thumbnail image for MD-OpeningDay-EmmettBurns.JPGAs expected, Maryland's House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday rejected an effort by a Baltimore County Democrat to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, writes The Baltimore Sun's Jule Bykowicz. The proposal by Del. Emmett C. Burns, who is also a minister, "was seen as a pre-emptive strike against a legal opinion that state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) has been working on since a senator requested it last year." Gansler has spoken in favor allowing same-sex marriages, but it remains unclear whether he will rule that the state can or should recognize marriages performed elsewhere. The issue is not explicitly dealt with in Maryland law.

Ballot question on Constitutional Convention advances
Every 20 years Maryland lawmakers are required to ask voters if the state's Constitution should be tweaked, or even ripped up and written anew. On Wednesday, a Senate committee passed a bill to do just that even as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle began warning a constitutional convention could be costly and unnecessary in Maryland's current budget climate. Some have argued such a convention, which hasn't been held in Maryland for more than 40 years, is the only way the state might seriously address term limits, campaign finance reform, and other issues in which lawmakers have vested interests. The bill must still clear the full Senate and the House. - Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner

Baltimore mayor counts down final hours in office
Thumbnail image for Dixon photo.jpg"The guest of honor moved through the restaurant in a black suit and pumps, surrounded by colleagues, well-wishers and staff members angling for a moment with the boss. Those moments come to an end at noon today, when Mayor Sheila Dixon becomes simply Sheila Dixon," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper. "Forced to resign as part of a plea deal to settle a criminal case, Dixon began her last full day as mayor Wednesday at a meeting of the city's spending board and wound it down at a happy-hour party at Milan, a new restaurant in Little Italy."

Unspun

"I love to teach. I love to coach."
Unspun: Michael E. Busch
An offbeat interview with the Maryland House Speaker

Busch big head.JPGGrowing up, was there a TV show you would never miss?
I used to watch "Spin and Marty" all the time when I came home from school. ... They were two young kids that had gone out to live on a ranch. It had all the wholesomeness of Walt Disney, and I watched it all the time.

What is the most recent song you've downloaded to your ipod?
I don't have an ipod, and I have not downloaded to an ipod. I'm an individual who still loves Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Doobie Brothers and the Eagles. I'm not much in tune with modern-day music, to the chagrin of my daughters.

Check back here at 11 a.m. for the complete interview by John Wagner, in which Busch also talks about what he does to relax and gives a priceless answer when asked about his favorite possession.

-----

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  |  February 4, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Unspun: Maryland House Speaker Mike Busch

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