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Wednesday, February 10, 2010:

The Agenda

Annapolis plows ahead, but more gingerly

Thumbnail image for Me in dots.jpgGranted, it has been a pretty sleepy session thus far. But an interesting debate broke out Tuesday about the virtues of keeping government open versus opening up government.

During its 90-day session, the Maryland General Assembly has a proud tradition of working through holidays and inclement weather, for appearances sake, if nothing else.

Miller mug.jpgThat perhaps explains the gusto behind Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s declaration to his chamber Tuesday morning: "We're going to have a session tomorrow, no matter what the circumstances are."

Miller (D-Calvert), who has presided over his chamber since 1987, seemed genuinely pained by a decision to cancel Monday night's session -- the first such retreat in seven years. "We don't want anybody to risk life or limb," he later told reporters, "but we need to make sure we get work done."

Then again, this year is a little different. For reasons we've discussed previously in this space, open government has become a cause celebre. After much posturing, committee votes are now being posted online, albeit in somewhat impenetrable form: scanned tally sheets that include abbreviations such as "FWA."

In the spirit of open government, several senators and delegates observed that it makes little sense to hold public bill hearings -- the activity that dominates this stage of session -- if the public can't get to Annapolis.

House huddle.jpgThe House was the quicker to acknowledge this, but leaders of both chambers later got to the same place regarding Wednesday: morning floor sessions are still on, but all committee hearings are canceled.

It's a safe bet that the galleries will be nearly empty when the chambers convene at 10 a.m. In the spirit of open government, we'll note that the public can listen in over the Internet -- and that anyone with an $800 "up-to-the-minute" subscription can pull up on their home computer a running list of bills being considered and actions taken.

We'll leave for another day the debate over whether all floor sessions should be televised during the 90-day session.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Another flash point on illegal immigration?
"Some Maryland lawmakers want to require the state prison system to notify federal authorities when an inmate may be in the country unlawfully -- potentially resurrecting last year's debate about how the state is responding to an influx of illegal immigrants," writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "The proposal, backed by a group of powerful Democratic senators that includes Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, came before a committee Tuesday. Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. of Anne Arundel County said the measure could save the state millions by shifting incarceration costs away from the state by deporting more illegal immigrants."

O'Donnell takes aim at 'fat cats'
O'Donnell mug.jpg"House Republican leader Anthony J. O'Donnell wants to strip all but the state's two top officials of their drivers, calling the benefit a 'fat-cat' service that should be eliminated in harsh budget times," writes The Sun's Annie Linskey. "State troopers provide security -- including driving -- for the attorney general, the comptroller, the treasurer, the House speaker and the Senate president. O'Donnell's bill would eliminate that service for those officials and would also bar department heads, their deputies and judges from having state workers to drive them to appointments."

Montgomery pares $70 million from budget
"After weeks of debate, the Montgomery County Council squeezed in a meeting Tuesday between snowstorms and approved $70 million in budget savings," writes The Post's Michael Laris. "But even after all the agonizing and cuts to libraries, road maintenance and fire and rescue services, the council essentially ended up where it had started. The current-year budget cuts, proposed last month by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), were designed to get a jump on a shortfall next fiscal year that officials have estimated could reach $608 million."

Notable Commentary

What winter storms say about broken politics
"Imagine that the mayor of the District and the governors of Maryland and Virginia got together and declared that in our interdependent 21st-century regional economy, there is no reason less than a foot of snow should be allowed to disrupt work and school, and no reason anything more than a foot shouldn't be cleaned up within 36 hours," writes The Post's Steven Pearlstein. "To pay for the extra manpower and equipment, the politicians proposed raising taxes and fees by an average of $25 per household each year, and $2,500 for the average business. It is a measure of the dysfunction of our political system that we can no longer rationally debate whether it is penny-wise and pound-foolish not to spend a little more to try to keep the Capital of the Free World from grinding to a halt every time a snowflake descends from the heavens."

Quotable

Snowy mansion and State House.jpg"This is a high-end city. It is a very wealthy city. What was good in the 1700s is not acceptable."
-- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), as he blasted Annapolis officials for poor snow removal and declared that city residents deserve better

"There is no city or county government that is geared up to move all of this snow."
-- Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) at a news conference at which he urged patience with local officials as the state braced for another storm

"If we're going to, I would not disclose our plans. There might be an ambush."
-- House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), being coy about whether House Republicans would engage in a proposed snowball fight with House Democrats

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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  |  February 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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