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Maryland General Assembly: Score Card 2010

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Track how key legislation is faring in the final hours in Annapolis:


UPDATED: 9 p.m.



LAW ENFORCEMENT AND PUBLIC SAFETY

Sex offender registry:
Status: In Limbo ... stuck in conference committee
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 three controversial provisions to it: allowing county state's attorneys to introduce far more information in court about offenders' prior records, adding special coding to sex offenders' driver's licenses to make them more easily identifiable to law enforcement, 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.
UPDATE (12 p.m.): Foxwell's mother, aunt and Wicimico County Sheriff Michael A. Lewis are in the State House hoping to spur lawmakers to final action.
UPDATE (5 p.m.): Members of a conference committee just wrapped up a tense round of negotiations with neither the House nor Senate giving ground.

Child Support:
Status: Approved, heading to the governor
A conference committee will meet Monday to try to reach agreement on bills to overhaul the state's child-support guidelines for the first time in more than 20 years. The Senate has passed a version that would allow parents to begin petitioning for more money in October if the amount they could receive under the new guidelines would increase by 25 percent or more. The House bill would apply only to future child-support arrangements, and it would not take effect until October 2011.
UPDATE (3:40 p.m.): Lawmakers say a conference committee has reached a deal on an overhaul of guidelines governing child support payments: Parents could not petition for more money as increased payments would only apply to future agreements. The higher payments would go into effect in October 2010 rather than 2011.
UPDATE (9 p.m.): Both chambers have approved the compromise.

ENVIRONMENT

Solar energy:
Status: Approved, heading to governor's desk
UPDATE: Maryland utilities would have to buy more power from solar energy sources under a bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly. The state Senate on Monday concurred with changes to the bill passed Saturday by the House of Delegates. House and Senate lawmakers had disagreed 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. Under the final version, residential electricity bills will increase by an estimated 5 cents per month next year and 66 cents per month for the average commercial ratepayer. The amount goes up each year, resulting in an increase of 77 cents a month for residents and $9.57 for commercial ratepayers in 2016.

EDUCATION

Private School Tax Credit:
Status: In Limbo ... and chances getting worse
Would allow tax credits for businesses that make scholarship donations for private school students. Some opponents of the bill say it's too close to voucher programs and could wind up funding schools with discriminatory hiring practices. The legislation would also give companies the tax credit if they contribute to enrichment programs for public school students or continuing teacher education. Maryland Catholic Conference leaders say the issue is timely, given the recent announcement that the Archdiocese of Baltimore plans to close 13 Catholic schools. The bill has been approved by the Senate and carries Gov. Martin O'Malley's endorsement.
UPDATE (11 a.m.): Amendments to the bill over the weekend essentially turned the bill into a $10 million direct grant program to parochial schools that have been at the same location for at least 25 years and have an enrollment decline of at least 10 percent. The measure means only Catholic schools would probably benefit, but advocates for those schools are opposed to the changes, believing it will mean less money than would come through tax-free donations.
UPDATE (3 p.m.): The head of a Maryland House panel wrestling with legislation to aid private schools says committee members are seeking the state attorney general's opinion on a constitutional issue. House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila Hixson said Monday that a subcommittee vote is delayed until the legal opinion is available. The House panel may amend the legislation to provide grants to private schools instead of tax credits. Advocates and opponents of the bill say there might be constitutional issues with the state providing direct funding to religious schools. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Senate approved a separate version that created a business tax credit for companies that provide scholarship donations to private schools. Legislators must approve a bill before midnight, the end of the session.


GAMBLING

Cards at Rosecroft:
Status: Appears dead
The Senate is seeking 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.
UPDATE (1 p.m.): The Senate passed the bill Monday. The House now has to either approve the legislation with the Senate's changes or find a compromise in a conference committee Monday afternoon.
UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the House does not intend to pass either bill sent its way by the Senate with the Rosecroft language intact. "There's not an interest on the part of a majority of the House or the Prince George's delegation to expand gambling at Rosecroft before we get a nickel out of a slot machine," said Busch spokeswoman Alexandra M. Hughes.
UPDATE (5 p.m.): A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) says the chamber does not intend to approve a bill that could lead to card games at the harness track.

FINANCIAL SECURITY

Foreclosure mediation:
Status: Approved, sent to governor
Both chambers passed legislation to require mediation between borrowers facing foreclosures and their mortgage lenders, if the borrower asks for mediation. Under the bill, which was sent to the governor Monday on the last day of the session, an application for loan modification must be sent to all homeowners 45 days before a foreclosure action is filed. It must include information on programs and counseling help.


BILLS PREVIOUSLY APPROVED


BUSINESS, JOBS & ECONOMY

Hiring Tax Credit:
Status: Approved, applicable for anyone hired after March 25
A $5,000 tax credit for Maryland employers who hire an unemployed resident has the approval of the state Senate. Gov. Martin O'Malley initially proposed a $3,000 tax credit as part of his legislative priorities this session. The governor has made job creation a main focus of this session to help the state bounce back from the recession. O'Malley put $20 million in his budget proposal for the initiative.

Unemployment Insurance:
Status: Approved, state law as of March 25
Maryland's lawmakers approved a compromise on changes to unemployment insurance laws that was agreed to by the state's labor and business communities. The measure allows businesses to spread out payments to Maryland's unemployment compensation fund and lower the interest rates for late payments in 2010 and 2011. It decreases benefits for some workers, but increase benefits for others including people seeking job training while unemployed. The governor wanted to change Maryland's unemployment insurance laws to get about $127 million in federal stimulus money.

BUDGET
Status: Approved
Maryland lawmakers compromised on a $32 billion budget that would cut a major source of funding for local road projects for the foreseeable future but would spare counties from beginning to share in the ballooning costs of teacher pension benefits. 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. As a compromise, however, House leaders were forced to accept a Senate proposal to all but eliminate a major source of funding for local road construction and maintenance for as far into the future as the state estimates its budget.

DRIVING
Hands Free:
Status: Approved, Up to O'Malley
Maryland lawmakers have approved a ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving. The House of Delegates voted 125-14 on Friday to pass a measure already approved by the Senate. The legislation now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who plans to sign the bill. Drivers could only use their hands to turn a phone on and off. They wouldn't be allowed to hold a cellphone during the conversation while driving. Drivers could be fined $40 for first violations, under the bill, but could only be pulled over if they are committing another offense as well, such as running a stop light.

SOURCES: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

By Aaron C. Davis  |  April 12, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , General Assembly , John Wagner  | Tags: House of Delegates, Law, Martin O'Malley, Maryland, Maryland General Assembly, Maryland House, Maryland Senate, United States  
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Next: As 2010 session ends, Ehrlich points to 2007

Comments

Yuck. The child support bill is really bad, increasing child support obligations that are already excessive. And it does so based on false claims.

It will financially destroy some non-custodial parents, leaving them unable to be involved in the lives of their children, and unable to even provide adequate shelter for their children when their children are visiting the non-custodial parent.

As lawyers, economists, and others have noted, child support levels in Maryland are too high already, and the bill is wrong to increase them further:

"Under the child support guidelines, child support already goes up along with income, since child support is based on income -- the higher your income, the higher your child support obligations. Child costs like toys are rising slower than costs in general."

Child support guidelines are like the tax code: inflation increases your obligations, since your obligations are based on your wages, which go up along with inflation (even though you are not really making any more money, except on paper, thanks to inflation). Just like your taxes, your child support relentlessly rises due to inflation.

Arguing that child support should be increased even further because of inflation -- when inflation is already addressed by the child support guidelines -- is double-counting that adds insult to injury. Yet that's the argument the bill's backers make.

Their misleading claim that Maryland is 41st in child support is false because it is based on an apples-to-oranges comparison, as a lawyer explains:

www.freedomaction.net/profiles/blogs/meaningless-child-support

At the following link is a lawyer's detailed explanation of why Maryland's child support schedule is too high already and doesn't need an increase:

www.examiner.com/x-7812-DC-SCOTUS-Examiner~y2010m2d5-Child-Support-Bill-Would-Increase-Already-Excessive-Obligations-Based-on-Erroneous-Rationale

The bill's drafters blatantly ignored inconvenient facts when the facts conflicted with their agenda of radically increasing child support payments.

As one commenter noted, "The child support increase bill [SB 252] selectively ignores actual child costs, as its Fiscal and Policy Note unintentionally reveals. On page 3, it says, 'The Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee found that in applying current estimates of child-rearing expenditures across the board for all incomes, there was a higher percentage increase to incomes below $10,000 and a lower percentage increase to incomes above $10,000.' Yet, 'the committee applied the 'average' increase in award amounts for incomes below $10,000 to those incomes above $10,000.'"

Posted by: sampere1 | April 12, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

What is this "senators on a key conference committee" nonsense? WHO?

Names, please. The people holding up the sex offender bill should be held accountable. Isn't that what the media is for?

Posted by: member8 | April 12, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

This is like a murder mystery, with no way of flipping ahead to the end. Specially gripping if you feel involved with some of the issues.

I find it incredible that in a year when we are scrambling for money, we want to forgo millions of dollars to support failing, sectarian educational institutions. Does it have anything to do with O'Malley's religion, I wonder.

The sex offender fever is sad. Has any research been done to see whether isolating and shaming sex offenders actually prevents re-offending? Does anyone see the grim humor in providing state money to a religion that breeds and protects sex offenders?

Posted by: crowsonguy | April 12, 2010 8:58 PM | Report abuse

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