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Wednesday, February 17, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgO'Malley puts a spotlight on home foreclosures

There's nothing quite like well-publicized testimony by the governor to draw a crowd to a bill hearing in Annapolis.

On Tuesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) made a rare appearance before legislative committees to pitch legislation he said would put financially strapped homeowners on a more even footing with "faceless, giant mortgage servicers who don't even have the decency to pick up the phone."

Thumbnail image for O'Malley recent mug.jpgO'Malley's election-year bill would give eligible borrowers the right to mediation before a foreclosure sale can take place on their home. The legislation is among the governor's top priorities this session and the latest in series of initiatives intended to stem the tide of foreclosures in Maryland.

The size of the Annapolis press corps swelled Tuesday to watch O'Malley and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sit at the witness table and field questions from delegates.

The scene was reminiscent of O'Malley's appearance last year on a far more controversial bill: one to end the death penalty in Maryland. That bill did not pass, despite the muscle of the governor's office.

Given the financial climate -- and this year's political environment -- the outlook for the foreclosures bill is far better. Which is not to say it is without critics.

Thumbnail image for O'Donnell mug.jpgAs The Baltimore Sun reported, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) questioned whether the bill is cost-effective, arguing that Maryland already seems to be doing a far better job of helping struggling homeowners than neighboring states like Virginia and Pennsylvania.

And the Maryland court system also opposes the mediation required by the bill because of its potential costs, among other reasons, The Sun noted.

The issue O'Malley chose to highlight with his personal testimony last year -- the death penalty -- has been little more than a blip on the Annapolis agenda so far this year.

Though lawmakers did not repeal the death penalty last year , they instead passed a bill tightening the evidence standards in capital cases. Some want to tweak that legislation this year, but there is little appetite to refight the larger battle.

Things have also been quiet on a related front: Regulations needed to resume capital punishment in Maryland remained stalled in a legislative review committee headed by two lawmakers who oppose the death penalty.

That committee is meeting Wednesday afternoon -- but the death penalty is not on the agenda.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Jamming to be demonstrated in Md. prison
"Equipment that jams cell phones will get its first federally sanctioned test inside a prison in Maryland this week, as state officials try to show Congress how the technology can prevent inmates from using the contraband devices to commit crimes, a governor's spokesman said Tuesday," reports Brian Witte of the Associated Press. "The state wants to show the equipment can be used without interfering with emergency response and legitimate signals outside the prison perimeter, said Shaun Adamec, Gov. Martin O'Malley's spokesman."

Obama's nuclear grant precedes decision on reactor
calvertcliffs.jpg"Constellation Energy Group Inc. expects to know within the next two months if it will receive a nuclear loan guarantee to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs, a company official said Tuesday" after President Obama handed out an $8.3 billion conditional loan guarantee to Southern Co., writes The Baltimore Business Journal's Danielle Ulman. Last summer, the Energy Department said Southern, Constellation, Scana Corp. and NRG Energy Inc. were among the companies in the running to split an $18.5-billion pool of money authorized by President George W. Bush. "With Southern's loan guarantee accounting for a large part of the pool, the remaining companies would be left to divvy up $10.2 billion," Ulman writes. But The Post's Michael Shear and Steven Mufson note that Obama's budget proposal calls for tripling nuclear investments to $54.5 billion, an amount the administration says could jump-start seven to 10 new nuclear power reactors.

Where's the healthiest address in Maryland?
Howard, Montgomery and Frederick are the healthiest counties in Maryland, according to a set of reports to be released Wednesday that rank U.S. counties and cities based on how long people live and how healthy they are, writes The Post's Lena Sun. "In Maryland, Prince George's County ranked 17 out of the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City for overall health, in large part because the rate of people dying before age 75, which is more than twice that of Howard County."

Higher ed spending bucked trend, despite tuition freeze
"In the most recent fiscal year, at the pit of the recession, state and local funding to Maryland public college students rose by 4 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, to $8,100 per student ... Higher education spending nationwide declined by 4 percent on average," writes The Post's Daniel de Vise in a report looking the end of the Maryland's freeze on tuition for state residents. State university Chancellor William E. Kirwan noted the "legislature effectively replaced the lost tuition dollars -- about $20 million a year -- with general-fund revenue each year during the freeze. 'I've been around since 1964,' he said. 'I don't ever remember a time when higher education was given the sense of respect and priority that it has been in recent years.'"

Quotables

Maryland Safe Schools Bill.jpg"It's sharing of information for the benefit of students ... you have to think about the majority who are there, whose parents are saying to the school that they don't expect in any way that their children are going to be recruited or possibly intimidated by gangs."
-- House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) on Tuesday announcing the introduction of the Maryland Safe Schools Act, which would require police, prosecutors and school officials to share information about students to try to root out gang activity in classrooms.

anne kaiser.jpg"We're number one in public schools, but we're certainly not number one for all of our students."
-- Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery), voicing support for the bill.

The bill seems to "set up a list of all the bad kids ... a little prank of your neighbor's house -- the baseball flies through the window of your mean neighbor's house, trespassing, hanging out in someone else's garage -- those are not necessarily things that schools need to know about."
-- Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the ACLU of Maryland, who praises the bulk of the bill, but takes exception with a part that requires courts to notify superintendents if a child has been found to be delinquent or in need of supervision.

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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 17, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Md. Senate turns back pay cut proposed by Harris

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