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Monday, April 12, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgWhen the confetti falls at midnight, there are certain to be some casualties. There always are.

In 2007, a massive state bailout to keep the Prince George's hospital system afloat collapsed in the final hours of the 90-day legislative session after a defiant council president declared the hard-fought compromise "flawed."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Maryland Senate.jpgIn 2008, a compromise bill to authorize speed cameras statewide was still sitting on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's desk when the clock struck midnight, and lawmakers adjourned sine die. Miller (D-Calvert) said he feared a filibuster that could sink other bills. A House leader said she was "pretty darn angry." Debate over the bill was done until the following year.

The same year, a bill regulating the scrap metal industry unexpectedly died on the House floor on the final night. One delegate blamed it on a "printing snafu." Others said it was part of an unspoken conspiracy to kill the legislation.

In 2009, a bill curbing the availability of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants barely made it through on the final night. Passage came with little more than an hour left in the session after an emotional plea from House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) to wavering delegates gathered in House lounge while other business continued on the floor.

It remains to be seen what drama will unfold in the remaining 19 hours of the 2010 legislative session. But if the Maryland General Assembly remains true to form, there will be plenty.

After 89 days, hundreds of bills await final passage between now and the session's end at midnight. Some will become hostage to other agendas. Some will simply run out of time -- until next year.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Divisive issues will dominate final day in assembly
MD-OpeningDay-House.JPG "The final day of lawmaking this year in Annapolis will be a cliffhanger Monday with a number of divisive proposals in limbo, including measures to better track sex offenders, require significantly higher child-support payments, allow Las Vegas-style gambling at a Prince George's County racetrack, and give schools and police new powers to combat youth gangs," write The Post's Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner. "Many of the most controversial bills that remain typify the deep social-policy debates that have dominated this year's session. With funding shortages precluding the General Assembly from expanding or creating new programs -- or even paying for ones it already approved -- social-policy questions that didn't come with obvious price tags but turned into election-year politics drew the most debate. Many of the last-minute negotiations are expected to center on whether Maryland should continue its traditionally conservative approach of adopting new law-enforcement rules governing everything from penalties against drunk drivers to sexual predators. The rundown:

-- Sex offenders: Senators on a key conference committee are holding up a bill that would make it easier for residents to track sex offenders online and to classify them based on the seriousness of their crimes, in accordance with federal guidelines. They have added two controversial provisions to it: allowing county state's attorneys to introduce far more information in court about offenders' prior records, and permitting the institutionalization of sex offenders beyond their prison terms. Senators seem to be willing to give up on the latter, but both sides seem to be betting that the other will blink first rather than let the legislation die, because it has been a priority of state leaders since last year's killing of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell on the Eastern Shore.

vallario.jpg-- Ignition interlock: The battle over ignition interlock devices will reach its conclusion Monday in the House Judiciary Committee, run by Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's). Vallario has said he questions whether it's an effective punishment for first-time offenders, and a work group he set up will determine whether the issue moves forward Monday.

Thumbnail image for medicalmarijuana.JPG-- Medical marijuana: The House also has a working group set up to study a bill to legalize medical marijuana, while the Senate on Saturday approved legalizing it. The House bill would require the state to produce the drug and allow patients to fill prescriptions at pharmacies if their doctors agree that other treatments have proved ineffective. Barring a surprise, House lawmakers will not vote on the measure before adjournment. The chamber intends to study the issue over the summer.

-- BOAST scholarships: The House Ways and Means Committee remains in the thick of a debate over whether to support a measure backed by O'Malley to create a new tax credit aimed at stemming the tide of Catholic school closures. Late Saturday detractors in the House proposed amendments that proponents said would gut the measure.

Thumbnail image for Table games.jpg-- Cards at Rosecroft: The Senate on Saturday sought to improve the odds of legalizing card games at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's. The Senate has passed a bill that would seek voter approval to put poker, blackjack and other Las Vegas-style card games at the ailing harness track in Fort Washington. With that bill stalled in a House committee, late Saturday afternoon the Senate attached the Rosecroft provisions to another bill: one sponsored by Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. It would add Worcester County to those jurisdictions on the Eastern Shore where certain nonprofit organizations can legally have up to five slot machines.

-- Solar portfolio: Maryland utilities would have to buy more power from solar energy sources under a bill the state's House of Delegates approved Saturday, but lawmakers still have to work out differences before the bill is final, reports The AP's Brian Witte. House and Senate lawmakers disagree on how much solar energy utilities should be required to buy and the amount of money they would pay for not complying. Supporters say the bill will help create jobs in solar energy while also protecting the environment. Opponents say it would only make already high electric bills even more costly.

Ehrlich hosts O'Malley's Democratic rival on radio
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Owings announcement.jpg"A radio confrontation between Maryland's leading candidates for governor did not materialize Saturday morning. But former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) did welcome one of Gov. Martin O'Malley's Democratic primary rivals to his weekly show," The Post's Wagner writes. "George W. Owings III, a former state delegate from Southern Maryland, was Ehrlich's guest for about an hour Saturday on the WBAL talk show that Ehrlich co-hosts with his wife, Kendel. The conversation between Owings, a conservative Democrat who served as Ehrlich's veterans affairs secretary, was chummy ... Owings, who has kept a low profile since his January announcement, agreed with Ehrlich on many of O'Malley's alleged shortcomings ... but the two were not on the same page regarding Ehrlich's "flush tax," a $30 annual fee on wastewater bills and septic systems the former governor backed to upgrade sewage facilities across the state."

Post editorial board takes aim at Maryland budget writers
"THE NEXT TIME your car jounces into a monster pothole in the Maryland suburbs, thank the union representing public schoolteachers. It's thanks to the union's overgrown clout in Annapolis, and to politicians too timid to challenge it in an election year, that some road repairs are unlikely anytime soon," says a Post Monday morning editorial. "That was the trade-off that state legislators made when they hammered out a budget compromise last week. In return for safeguarding -- at least for a few years -- the budget-busting system by which teachers' pensions are paid exclusively by the state, lawmakers all but eliminated state funding for road repairs in counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's."

Quotables

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Another Ehrlich mug.jpg"Had to happen. The money had to come from somewhere ... It's something that I'm very proud of."
-- Robert L. Ehrlich on his radio show on Saturday, defending the so-called flush tax he backed when governor.
Owings.jpg"A necessary evil ...I wasn't particularly crazy about another tax."
-- George W. Owings III, a guest on Ehrlich's show, saying he understood the need for the flush tax, but disliked it, touching on the theme of Ehrlich's fiscal record that Democrats are expected to use during the campaign.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Jamie Raskin.jpg"The best medical marijuana legislation in the country."
-- Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), describing in a press release the bill that passed the Senate on Saturday

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Busch mug.jpg"You take credit and blame for what takes place as the presiding officer."
-- House Speaker Michael E. Busch talking to Liam Farrell of The Capital for a story about his legacy: "He was at the forefront of a historic expansion of health care in the state, but he also had to lead the way on O'Malley's controversial tax plan in 2007," Farrell writes.

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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  |  April 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Maryland General Assembly: Score Card 2010

Comments

"The trade-off was rich with election year symbolism, with House Democrats unwilling to support a Senate proposal that would have required them to go against Maryland's powerful teachers unions. Teachers fear that shifting pension costs to counties could limit future pay increases and complicate negotiations over health and retirement benefits, which the state now pays with few questions asked."

Flatly untrue! The state pays $0 toward retired teacher health benefits and teachers contribute 5% of our pay to our pension funds. The reason the state wants to pass a share of the cost of funding pensions is that when they passed the enhancements they failed to provide a dedicated funding stream and the fund managers invested the money poorly and now they have a deficit to make up.

So, they trump up the idea that if the counties just didn't give pay raises or hire teachers that the cost of pension benefits wouldn't keep going up.

Maybe if the fund managers had been more conservative or if the assembly had come up with a funding stream we wouldn't have to balance the budget on the backs of teachers!

It's the Post's blind antipathy for teachers and unions in general that creates this sort of propaganda. Funding pensions is a commitment that the legislators made and that educators contribute their own money to. The legisature needs to keep its promise.

Posted by: LarryBud | April 12, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

""THE NEXT TIME your car jounces into a monster pothole in the Maryland suburbs, thank the union representing public schoolteachers. It's thanks to the union's overgrown clout in Annapolis, and to politicians too timid to challenge it in an election year, that some road repairs are unlikely anytime soon," says a Post Monday morning editorial. "That was the trade-off that state legislators made when they hammered out a budget compromise last week. In return for safeguarding -- at least for a few years -- the budget-busting system by which teachers' pensions are paid exclusively by the state, lawmakers all but eliminated state funding for road repairs in counties such as Montgomery and Prince George's."

This is even more disgusting. Teachers' pensions are not funded exclusively by the state! Teachers contribute 5% of our hard earned money into the pension system.

What is breaking the budget is the fact that the legislature failed to commit its portion in the form of a dedicated funding stream and then the market tanked. What's breaking the pension system are the unwise investment choices made by the fund managers that beilieved that the market was going to continually rise.

Teachers' unions advocated for iprovements to what was then the worst pension system in the country and remains, even with the improvements in the lower 25%.

Whether or not you hit a pothole has nothing to do with teachers getting a fair shake or with the state trying to balance the budget on the backs of its local governments.

Posted by: LarryBud | April 12, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing what damage can be done to our liberties in 90 days by the MD Democrats that run the State House. Every year, they find more ways to legislate our freedoms away for the sake of appearing like they're doing something with little or no thought about wider implications. The politicians we elect should realize that sometimes doing nothing (e.g. not entertaining frivolous legislation) is perfectly acceptable.

In past years, it was red light and speeding cameras. This year, it's more measures to track sex offenders, require significantly higher child-support payments, giving schools and police new powers to combat youth gangs and, finally, ignition interlocks for DUI offenders. I'm sure O'Malley never faced that penalty after his DUI, BTW. While these things seem like good ideas on face value, no one takes the time to realize the impact on the liberties we give up as a result. Once we give up our freedom, it is much harder to reverse these measures.

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Posted by: Digitalman08 | April 12, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"The best medical marijuana legislation in the country."
-- Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery)

So let's get that passed already!

Posted by: MarilynManson | April 12, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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