First Click, Maryland -- The final three weeks
Your morning download of Maryland political news
Monday, March 22, 2010:
Drivers who talk on cell phones without hands-free devices might soon be committing an offense in Maryland. Or they might not be.
Custodial parents might soon benefit from Maryland's first overhaul in child support guidelines in two decades. Or they might not.
Wine lovers might soon see a ban lifted on having bottles shipped directly to their Maryland homes from out of state. Okay, probably not, but some lawmakers haven't given up just yet.
All three of these issues -- and dozens more, affecting millions of Marylanders -- remain to be resolved in the final three weeks of the 90-day legislative session.
The Maryland General Assembly is a little like a college kid, partying and procrastinating through much of the semester until it hits home that finals are just around the corner. That seems to be the case again this year, perhaps to an even greater degree than usual. The reasons for that aren't exactly clear -- the parties certainly haven't been any better.
In any case, with three weeks until sine die, virtually no bill of consequence has made it to the governor yet. That's not to say many won't.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will get a legislative package on sex offenders. He'll get a larger tax credit than he sought to offer businesses that hire unemployed workers. Lawmakers will overhaul the state's unemployment insurance system. And the state budget, which hits the Senate floor this week, will pass after much posturing.
But none of that work has been completed yet. If you haven't tuned into the 2010 session of the legislature, you arguably haven't missed all that much. But this would be a good week to start paying attention.
"Crossover" is next Monday, which means there will be a crush of legislation going through both chambers this week. In theory, a bill must clear one chamber or the other by that deadline or the chance of passage becomes far more remote. To handle the load, House leaders have already announced their intentions to hold two-a-day floor sessions toward the end of the week and to come in on Saturday. So expect some long hours.
Which brings us back to the three bills with which we started -- all of which would affect large swaths of Marylanders, are pretty easy to understand and have uncertain fates.
After several delays last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) pledged to keep his chamber in session Monday night as long as necessary to debate proposed amendments to a bill that would prohibit the "use of a driver's hands to use a handheld telephone."
Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's), who claims the bill is so overreaching that it would "make criminals out of virtually everyone in this state," has prepared about a dozen amendments intended to weaken the measure.
Earlier this month, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would spur the first overhaul of child support guidelines since 1989. Under the legislation, the schedule used by the courts to determine child support obligation would be updated to reflect more current economic realities, leading many noncustodial parents to pay more.
The House version of the bill is parked in the unruly and often unpredictable Judiciary Committee, with a vote expected in coming days.
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), meanwhile, sought on Friday to force a floor vote on a measure to allow direct shipment of out-of-state wine to Marylanders' homes. A bill to do that bill remains bottled up in committee, but Zirkin offered the measure as an amendment to another wine-related bill, asserting that a majority of the chamber is willing to buck the alcohol industry if given a chance to vote.
Senate leaders quickly employed a most common tactic in the legislature: They postponed the debate. It is expected to resume Tuesday.
News You Should Know (Weekend Roundup)
Kratovil and Bartlett vote against health-care bill
"Maryland's freshman Democratic Congressman Frank Kratovil says concerns over cost led him to ultimately oppose health care reform legislation in the U.S. House," reports The Associated Press. "The House of Representatives voted 219-212 for the bill Sunday evening. It extends health care to tens of millions of Americans who lack it and tries to clamp down on insurance company abuses. Kratovil and Maryland's lone Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett were the only two of the state's eight U.S. House members to oppose the bill."
Pension shift slipped into Senate budget plan
"A state Senate panel decided Friday that Maryland should balance future budgets by shifting some teacher pension costs to local governments, a long-discussed change that caught education activists and county officials by surprise," writes The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey. "The move came as the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee put its final touches on alterations to Gov. Martin O'Malley's $13 billion general fund spending plan, trimming about $120 million and eliminating 500 government jobs."
Maryland Senate considers table games
"Even before the first of 15,000 slot machines arrives in Maryland, state lawmakers are considering the legalization of some Las Vegas-style table games, including poker and black jack, at a financially ailing racetrack in Prince George's County," writes The Post's John Wagner in Saturday's paper. "Under a measure that could win Senate approval early [this] week, voters statewide would be asked in November to authorize card games at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington. Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), the bill's sponsor and an avowed gambling opponent, described the measure Friday as a 'desperation move' to keep the track afloat. ... On Friday, senators rejected a proposed amendment to Muse's bill that would have allowed betting on card games at up to five other locations, to be chosen by a state commission."
Child-support payments could increase
The Senate has already approved the first change in child support guidelines in nearly two decades and now "members of the House of Delegates committee reviewing it say it is likely to pass in their chamber, too," writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz in Monday's paper. "In a $60,000 per year household with one child where both parents make the same amount of money, the noncustodial parent pays $335 per month in support to the custodial parent. Under the new guidelines, the noncustodial parent would owe $426 -- a 27 percent increase," Linskey writes.
Montgomery Council to address tampering allegations
"The Montgomery County Council will hold a public session in the next few weeks to discuss allegations by Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley that some county officials have attempted to interfere with his office's investigations," writes The Post's Michael Laris on Sunday. "Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) ... said Friday that they will air the claims in public ... County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) [responded in a memo to the council saying] 'This is the first I have heard of these allegations ... I have never been informed of any 'impairments' from my staff nor have I been given the opportunity to respond.'"
Maryland: Not so Southern anymore?
"Maryland's official song may include a line about 'Northern scum' left over from the Civil War era, but the state isn't feeling so Southern anymore," The AP's Brian Witte wrote late last week. "Though Marylanders live just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, their attitudes and even their accents straddle that border. These days, leaders feel they've got more in common with states to the north. In one sign of the shift, lawmakers successfully petitioned to move from the Southern Region of the Council of State Governments to the Eastern Region, where they'll be able to trade ideas with fellow officials from Pennsylvania, New York, and other states they consider more like-minded. 'I just don't think we're as Southern as people used to think,' said state Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat. It's unusual for states to switch regions in the 77-year-old council, which provides a forum for state officials to share ideas. The last time was when Missouri switched from the Midwestern Region to the Southern Region in 1994."
The Week Ahead
• Senate debates a bill requiring hands-free devices on cell phones
• Senate expected to debate direct wine shipping
• House subcommittees meet to make budget decisions
• House committees consider legislation to prohibiting minors from using tanning devices; requiring at-store plastic bag recycling programs; and prohibiting registered sex offenders at polling places.
• House environment committee considers stormwater management legislation.
• Senate Judicial Proceedings committee hears dozens of bills including legislation to extend protective orders and to make manslaughter by vehicle criminal negligence
• House Judiciary considers a moratorium on out-of-state gay marriages
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.
Aaron C. Davis
March 22, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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