State Roundup, March 4, 2011

March 04, 2011 at 8:23 am

O’MALLEY AGENDA: Several of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chief legislative initiatives have run into tough questioning or strong resistance from legislators this year, prompting uncertainty about the outcome of the governor’s agenda more than halfway through the General Assembly session, Alan Brody writes in the Gazette.

WIND POWER: Gov. Martin O’Malley testified on a bill that would require the state’s utilities to invest in wind energy, and received skeptical responses from the House of Delegates, reports the Sun’s Annie Linskey. O’Malley said that in the long run, wind energy would be better for consumers – though studies said that this plan could cost ratepayers an extra $9 per month, reports The Post’s  Aaron Davis.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: While there still was no House committee vote on the issue on Thursday, O’Malley said that he hoped the different sides could come together and pass the bill, report Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz in the Sun.

John Wagner of the Post wrote that Del. Jill Carter – one of the two votes up in the air on the issue — was out sick on Thursday. Meanwhile, Del. Tiffany Alston is considering an amendment that would take marriage out of the bill, allowing for civil unions, Wagner blogged.

Another attempt to vote on the bill is likely to take place today, reports Steve Lash from The Daily Record.

Post columnist Petula Dvorak talks to Alston about her voting dilemma, while Carter tells Investigative Voice’s Stephen Janis and Alan Forman that she “saved the bill” by not showing up to vote in committee earlier this week because it didn’t have enough votes to pass.

Freshman Del. Sam Arora is wavering on his support for the gay marriage bill, C. Benjamin Ford reports in the Gazette, and some campaign contributors are asking for their money back.

Gazette columnist Blair Lee writes about the speed bump for the gay marriage bill, and Del. Jill Carter’s demands.

ESTATE TAX: Gov. Martin O’Malley did not end up testifying in support of Del. Kathy Afzali’s bill to exempt farms from much of the estate tax due to a conflict, but sent his sentiments on the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee through Agriculture Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance, reports the Sun’s Julie Bykowicz. Part of the governor’s reason for not attending was that he was caught in a longer-than-expected hearing on wind energy, which Hance joked was “windy” with debate, reports Meg Tully of the Frederick News Post.

Afzali’s bill is co-sponsored by 17 Democrats and 25 Republicans, according to an Associated Press story in the Carroll County Times.

CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC: Closed-door “stakeholder meetings,” where people impacted by legislation and policymakers hash out their differences, are a common way of doing business in Annapolis, says an AP story published in the Daily Record.

HOLOCAUST DISCLOSURE: Holocaust survivors and their relatives urged the General Assembly to impose strict disclosure requirements on Keolis America, a Rockville-based company controlled by French rail company SNCF, in order for Keolis to compete for a contract to operate MARC’s Camden and Brunswick lines reports The Sun’s Michael Dresser. SNCF trains were used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

SNCF America President Denis Doute acknowledged that SNCF trains were used during the war, but the company’s officials were coerced and forced to supply the trains to the Nazis, reports Nick Sohr in The Daily Record. They also said that the corporate layers separating Keolis from SNCF should protect the company.

MINIMUM WAGE: A proposal to gradually increase minimum wage to $9.75 an hour by 2013 was both praised and condemned at the Senate Appropriations Committee, reports MarylandReporter.com’s Megan Poinski.

DIME-A-DRINK: At a hearing about a measure to increase alcohol taxes, hospitality industry advocates told lawmakers that the new tax could have a significant impact  on alcoholic beverage sales, which makes up a large portion of profits, reports the Baltimore Business Journal’s Alexander Jackson.

PAROLE ON LIFE SENTENCES: House Republicans are wary that a bill lessening the governor’s authority to act on parole applications from offenders serving life sentences is giving a free pass from prison, reports the Washington Times’ David Hill.

911 PROBLEMS: Verizon has told lawmakers and regulators that a combination of technical and communications failures caused about 10,000 Maryland residents to hear busy signals when they called 911 on Jan. 26, Erin Cunningham writes in the Gazette.

RIGHT-TO-WORK: A bill to make Maryland a “right-to-work” state — meaning that employers cannot give preference to unions — was fiercely opposed by union members and leaders, reports Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com.

CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE: Del. Ben Kramer has sponsored legislation that would put into statute the contributory negligence standard preventing a plaintiff from collecting damages if they are in any way at fault, Alan Brody reports in the Gazette. But other Montgomery County legislators say the law is not needed.

MRIs BY DOCS: Medical imaging machines could be on the way out of doctor offices following a ruling by the state’s highest court, which rendered the devices in violation of Maryland law, Jeff Newman reports in the Gazette.

POWER OUTAGES: Margie Hyslop writes in the Gazette that Pepco customers averaged 42 percent longer waits to have their power restored in the wake of the Jan. 26-27 snow and ice storm than did customers of neighboring Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Officials from Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric defended the amount of time it took to restore power after recent storms to the Public Service Commission on Thursday, reports The Sun’s Liz Kay.

READING TEXTS WHILE DRIVING: Six floor amendments to a bill that would prohibit reading text messages while driving — including one banning eating behind the wheel — failed as the bill got preliminary Senate approval on Thursday, reports Len Lazarick and Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com. The bill passed the House relatively easily on Thursday.

The Examiner’s Hayley Petersen also writes about amendments offered on the Senate floor on Thursday. The Sun’s Julie Bykowicz blogs a quick rundown of where the proposal is going next.

DBED ON ECONOMY: In an interview with staff of The Daily Record, Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson said that the economy is turning around, just not as fast as everyone would like, reports staff writer Nick Sohr.

E-VERIFY: Sen. Christopher Shank has proposed legislation that would require all contractors to have their citizenship verified through an online system, reports the Herald-Mail’s Andy Schotz.

1099 REPEAL: The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation repealing a measure that would have forced businesses to issue 1099s to every contractor they spent more than $600 on, reports the Baltimore Business Journal’s Emily Mullin. The U.S. Senate passed a companion measure last month.

STATUE CONTROVERSY: Gazette opinionator Barry Rascovar takes on the controversy about Maryland’s statues in the U.S. Capitol.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on the Cat in the Hat spat; Christine O’Donnell and Pat McDonough; Jill Carter; Donna Stifler and daughter; former Del. Jim King’s DBED gig; and John Leopold’s dog.

ACTIVE FRESHMAN: Del. C.T. Wilson, a freshman in the House, is starting his first year with a bang, sponsoring seven pieces of legislation, reports Jeff Newman for The Independent.

EARLY VOTING CENTERS: A bill from Sen. Ron Young to allow three early voting centers in counties with fewer than 150,000 registered voters was heard in committee, reports The Herald-Mail’s Andrew Schotz.

WICOMICO BOE: Lower Shore legislators are drafting a bill that would conduct a straw poll for Wicomico County voters: Do they prefer a school board appointed by the governor, like it is now, or one that is elected? Greg Latshaw reports for the Salisbury Daily Times.

MOCO BENEFITS: According to Andrew Ujifusa in the Gazette, a consultant says retiree health benefits are likely to cost Montgomery County Public Schools $1.56 billion in the foreseeable future, an increase of $200 million from projections two years ago.

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