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Friday, March 19, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgTaken at face value, a bill that the Maryland Senate is scheduled to resume debating Friday is about protecting jobs at Rosecroft Raceway, the ailing harness-racing track in Prince George's County.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), would have voters statewide decide whether to allow gambling on card games at the Fort Washington facility, which badly needs the revenue. Live racing is a fading memory there, and the plug has been pulled more recently on simulcasting of thoroughbred races.

Muse's bill is also a reflection of something bigger: the frustration many lawmakers are feeling as they watch surrounding states legalize table games at the same time Maryland is struggling to get its slot-machine initiative off the ground.

Black jack.jpgThat sentiment was evident Thursday when Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) introduced an amendment to expand Muse's bill to allow card games at five additional sites, to be picked by a state commission if the ballot measure passes.

"We're way behind other states," said Sen. George W. Della Jr. (D-Baltimore). "This would take us to the next level, and let us be competitive."

Separate bills have been introduced in both chambers to allow table games -- roulette and craps, in addition to poker and black jack -- at the five slots sites authorized by voters in 2008. Voters would have to give their blessing to a table games proposal as well. That's because of a provision in the 2008 slots referendum requiring new ballot measures every time the state expands gambling.

There has been a lot of second-guessing of that provision by gambling advocates, who also regret a 2008 measure requiring gaming facilities to comply with local zoning requirements. That provision has led to the delays and uncertainty surrounding the planned 4,750-machine slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

"We're wedded to this incredibly complicated system of approval," said Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for Rosecroft.

While that system has ensured gambling will expand more slowly in Maryland than might otherwise be the case, Thursday's debate also illustrated some of the perils of moving too quickly.

During floor debate, Senate President Pro Tem Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore) erroneously told his colleagues that operators of the card facilities would be subject to the same 67 percent tax on proceeds that slots operators will be assessed.

Muse's bill is actually silent on that issue. If voters approve of legalized cards, another bill would have to be passed filling in lots of details including that one. A study produced for Rosecroft anticipates a tax on proceeds of about 15 percent -- not the 67 percent McFadden initially relayed.

Mike Miller mug.jpgSenate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a co-sponsor of Muse's bill, eventually jumped in.

"Folks, these are not slot machines," Miller told his colleagues. "It's a totally different concept. ... Each hand, you have a winner, and the house takes a small piece ... for letting the people play."

The person holding most of the cards in this debate is House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). He has signaled that lawmakers should not be expanding gambling in Maryland before the state's slot machines become operational. On Thursday, Busch said he would defer additional comment until talking to Prince George's delegates.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Federal law could prompt end of September primaries
"Every four years, for more than three decades, voters in Maryland and the District have been going to the polls for primary elections in September after the kids are back in school and the summer travel season had ended," writes The Post's Tim Craig. "But after the 2010 elections, the traditional September primary might become as extinct as the hand-counted ballot, as states begin abiding by a new federal law designed to make voting easier for overseas service members."

Five fired or disciplined following detention center death
Devore.jpg"Five employees of the state-run Cheltenham Youth Facility were fired or disciplined after a review determined that security protocols were violated before and during the February killing of a teacher at the juvenile detention center for boys in Prince George's County," reports The Post's Mary Pat Flaherty. "The actions were announced Thursday by Donald W. DeVore, secretary of Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services. He would not name the affected employees but said two residential assistants were fired, a high-level administrator was demoted, and a supervisor and a program manager were suspended. The suspensions were for 10 days or less, officials said."

House poised to pass sex offender bills
Thumbnail image for sarah_foxwell.jpg"In response to the Christmastime killing of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell, Maryland delegates are expected to pass bills Friday that would form the backbone of lawmakers' efforts to tighten restrictions on sex offenders," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "The package would ratchet up monitoring of the state's worst sexual predators, placing them under extended -- and potentially lifetime -- supervision. On a case-by-case basis, judges could use the legislation to require regular law enforcement checks, random polygraph testing, monitoring of computer usage, and limits on how close predators can live to schools, parks and playgrounds."

More study could delay State facility on Eastern Shore
"Federal environmental officials are recommending a more thorough study of a controversial State Department security facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a step likely to delay construction into next year," reports The Sun's Paul West. "The plan to build a training center for diplomats on 2,000 acres of privately owned farmland in Ruthsburg has been pushed back several months by local opposition that caused some politicians to backpedal from their support."

Quotables

Pipkin.jpg"This makes criminals out of virtually everyone in this state."
-- Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's), objecting to a bill on the Senate floor that would prohibit the "use of a driver's hands to use a handheld telephone other than to initiate or terminate a wireless telephone call or to turn on or off the handheld telephone."

Stone.jpg"This bill is about safety. This bill is not about penalizing people."
-- Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), the sponsor of the bill, noting that the bill contains no criminal sanctions. First-time offenders are subject to a $100 civil penalty.

gladden.jpg"I think this bill is awful."
-- Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore), speaking of a bill sponsored by Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) that would have prohibited the use of foreclosure proceedings to enforce a lien or judgment arising from unpaid water and sewer bills. Moments later, Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Carroll) made a successful motion to "postpone indefinitely" the bill.

Turnbull.jpg"The Baltimore law offices of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice ... [are] serving as the de facto campaign headquarters."
-- Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Turnbull, in a letter to the state elections board, complaining about the law firm of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Thumbnail image for Franchot.jpg"We find it's effective. We publicly shame and embarrass them into paying their taxes."
-- Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), upon unveiling a list of Maryland's 50 biggest tax scofflaws who collectively owe the state nearly $8 million in unpaid taxes. The comptroller's office has released similar lists since 2000.

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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 John Wagner  |  March 19, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  First Click , John Wagner  
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