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Wednesday, April 14, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgThose Catholic bishops sure don't pull any punches. Vincent DeMarco is hands-down the most optimistic man in Annapolis. And much of the 90-day legislative session is spent fixing problems most of us didn't know existed.

Those are just a few insights gleaned from a check of our inbox during the 30 hours or so since the curtain fell Monday on the 427th session of the Maryland General Assembly.

State House.jpgDuring the session, advocacy groups issue far more press releases than we ever have time to read (carefully). Even the pro-environment groups bring us more paper than we know what to do with. And we usually get electronic versions of the same thing.

Several releases issued at the close of the 2010 session, however, offer a window into what happened and tell us a little about lobbying tactics in Annapolis. So we thought we'd share.

Perhaps the most eye-popping came from the Maryland Catholic Conference, which fought unsuccessfully again this year for passage of a tax credit, known as BOAST, that would have been available to businesses that help provide scholarships for private schools. The bill, backed for the first time this year by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) as a wave of parochial schools in the Baltimore area prepare to close, made it out of the Senate but died in the House on sine die.

The morning after, a joint statement was issued by the Most Rev. Edwin F. O'Brien, the archbishop of Baltimore; the Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington; and the Most Rev. W. Francis Malooly, the bishop of Wilmington.

It read in part: "Last night's 11th hour vote by the House Ways and Means Committee to kill the BOAST Maryland Tax Credit illustrated the sad triumph of special interests over the needs of low-income students, and a heartless disservice to the 55,000 students in Maryland's Catholic schools, their teachers, and their families. ... The committee's action can only be interpreted as a sign of disrespect to the nonpublic school community that has served our state for over two centuries. We are extremely disappointed in the elected officials who worked against this proposal, and who showed a total lack of sensitivity to the needs of the families our schools serve, and the impact that a quality education can have on the life of an at-risk child."


PostVinnyPicture.jpgVincent DeMarco provides a study in contrast. While 2010 turned out to be a historic year for health care on the federal level, it is not likely to be remembered for actions by the state legislature, primarily because of budget constraints. Still, DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, found something to crow about.

"As the gavel fell last night on this year's General Assembly session, we here in Maryland have much to be thankful for," the always-sunny DeMarco said in a statement sent our way. "Unlike many other states across the country, Maryland is keeping its promise to our most vulnerable citizens by refusing to cut back on our health care coverage."

DeMarco went on cite a few relatively modest bills that passed, including one that makes it easier for the state to crack down on Medicaid fraud.

That brings us to the things that passed without much, if any, notice by the media.

Our favorite headline on a recently issued press release came from the Department of Natural Resources: "GOVERNOR O'MALLEY SIGNS LEGISLATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN ON BOATS." That referred to a new law that requires "any child under the age of 13 ... to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while aboard a vessel that is underway."

Meanwhile, the ACLU and NAACP "hailed" the passage of something called the "No Representation Without Population Act." If you follow along carefully, it's actually quite interesting.

For voting purposes, the bill "requires that prisoner populations be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated," according to an ACLU press release.

And why does this matter? According to the ACLU: "One Maryland state legislative subdistrict's population is 18 percent prisoners. This means every group of four residents in this district has as much political influence as five residents elsewhere, even though prisoners cannot vote. The impact at the local level is even more pronounced. In one county district in Maryland, 64 percent of its population is prisoners. ... This issue has been a longstanding civil rights problem in Somerset County, where the placement of a prison inside a majority-minority district has ensured that despite the fact that the county is 42 percent African American, no black candidate has ever been elected to a top position in Somerset County government."

The bill seeking to correct this was among 170 signed Tuesday by O'Malley. No doubt the ACLU was applauding.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

O'Malley, Ehrlich spin end of Maryland session
O'Malley bill signing.jpg"With balloons from the annual session-ending confetti drop still strewn on the floor of the Maryland State House, Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Republican challenger rushed Tuesday to spin this year's legislative session into campaign sound bites," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner. "'In times of great adversity, we don't make excuses, we make progress,' Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said as he highlighted a new law mandating foreclosure help for homeowners and a state budget with $250 million in new borrowing to build schools. 'I don't think much of anything happened in Annapolis this session,' countered former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is seeking a rematch with O'Malley in November."

Session helps Prince George's weather the storm
Thumbnail image for Jack B. Johnson.jpg"Prince George's County employees face no layoffs and fewer furlough days in the coming fiscal year, and county schools will receive more money, as a result of increased state aid secured during this year's General Assembly session, County Executive Jack B. Johnson said Tuesday," reports The Post's Jonathan Mummolo. "The county will receive an additional $18 million from the state in 'disparity grants,' which are designed to help jurisdictions with relatively low per-capita income. In recent years, calculations for the grants were done before many wealthier residents filed their tax returns -- a practice that Prince George's officials said shortchanged the county by making it appear better off than it is relative to wealthier counties such as Montgomery. The date of the calculations was changed in a state budget bill this year to account for more tax income, resulting in a windfall for Prince George's."

Furlough proposal spurs spirited debate in Montgomery
"Montgomery County's dimming fiscal picture is sharpening a debate over equity among its employees, and some officials are pushing what they call a more progressive approach to managing cutbacks," writes The Post's Michael Laris. "As part of his $4.3 billion budget proposal last month, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed 10 forced days off for thousands of county employees, amounting to a 3.8 percent salary cut. Such furloughs have become a common tactic from California to Prince George's County as the recession has battered budgets. But until this year, Leggett had resisted."

Maryland completes 'Race to the Top' draft
"Maryland education officials charted a reform path Tuesday that would overhaul statewide exams, make student performance a factor in teacher evaluations and toughen graduation requirements in math and science. They hope their proposal will make the state eligible for millions of dollars in federal education aid," writes The Post's Michael Birnbaum. "The 257-page proposal is the draft of an application for President Obama's $4 billion Race to the Top competition. Maryland is seeking to win as much as $250 million."


"That really shouldn't have been heavy lifting."
-- former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), on sex offender legislation passed in the closing hours of the 2010 session of the General Assembly

"To make progress in the toughest of times, that is what this General Assembly session has been about."
-- Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), offering a different take on the session than his predecessor and challenger


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  |  April 14, 2010; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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The self righteousness of the Catholic bishops astounds me: referring to our elected officials who fought to preserve our tax revenues as "special interests". The special interests they are defending are the Maryland taxpayers, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Thank you to to Sheila Hickson and the Ways and Means Committee.

Posted by: crowsonguy | April 14, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the overview of the power of the lobby. This is pressure politics at its best.

It is only during times of limited money that the impact of politics is clear.

The message? Push as hard as you can for results, then see the victory in whatever happens.

Posted by: goodgovernment | April 14, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

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