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Published on March 21st, 2011 | by Cynthia Prairie

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State Roundup, Monday, March 21, 2011

BUDGET CHANGES: Aaron Davis of the Post writes that answers to philosophical questions about politics began to be realized late Friday in a series of votes that finalized the budget plan that Maryland’s House of Delegates will debate this week.

Lawmakers on the key House Appropriations subcommittee responded with a plan that would significantly lower state retirees’ out-of-pocket prescription drug, Davis writes in the Post.

They rewrote portions of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $14 billion budget proposal, rolling back the governor’s most significant cuts by chopping elsewhere and raising roughly $67 million in fees, Annie Linskey reports for the Sun.

To partially restore school funding cuts proposed by the governor, the committee has preliminarily voted to increase three fees, including two that would hit car owners, writes the Post’s Davis.

In nine hours of voting Friday, reports Megan Poinski for Maryland Reporter.com, the committee made major changes in retirement plans, created a new prescription plan for retirees as well as increased some vehicle fees.

Robert Lang of WBAL-AM reports that the House  is expected to send a budget bill to the Senate by the end of the week.

PENSION CHANGES: The protest by more than 10,000 state teachers and employees last Monday was not enough to keep two dozen members of the House Appropriations Committee from approving major changes to their pensions Friday, writes Megan Poinski for MarylandReporter.com.

SELL MPT: The Sun’s David Zurawik writes that in these tough economic times, maybe the state should consider selling the struggling Maryland Public Television. It worked for WYPR-FM.

PAYING FOR PURPLE LINE: Maryland’s Senate Republican whip, who represents the Eastern Shore, is urging lawmakers to push the billion-dollar cost of the Purple Line rail onto Maryland’s Washington suburbs, while letting rural counties off the hook, reports Hayley Peterson of the Washington Examiner. The bill, said Sen. E.J. Pipkin “comes out of the frustration of representing a rural area and watching highway user revenues draw down to the point where we can’t repair our roads.”

TAX HIKES: House Majority Leader Kumar Barve says tax increases are unlikely, except alcohol taxes, which haven’t been raised since the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and its revenues subcommittee, Barve says all the other tax hikes proposed, including the gasoline tax, are not likely to pass.

MILLIONAIRE’S TAX: Maryland lawmakers are trying to resurrect a bill that would extend the so-called millionaire’s tax on the top 1% of the state’s earners through 2015, reports Hayley Peterson for the Washington Examiner. If resurrected, it would generate roughly $75 million for the state in its first year.

DREAM ACT: As Maryland’s DREAM Act heads to the House of Delegates, Western Maryland delegates who are opposed to giving instate tuition to illegal students believe the bill will likely pass, Matthew Bieniek reports for the Cumberland Times News.

MOTOR VOTER: The Motor Vehicle Administration is planning to discard the paper-based voter registration process that lawmakers described as “antiquated” and move to the fully automated system long desired by Maryland State Board of Elections officials, reports Annie Linskey for the Sun. This comes after a Sun analysis that found a 25% failure rate for those who thought they had registered.

BUS CAMERAS: The Sun’s Michael Dresser writes that proposed legislation would allow local school systems to mount cameras on buses to catch drivers who pass school buses that are stopped to pick up or let off children – one of the most serious non-felony traffic violations a driver can commit.

PRESCRIPTION ABUSE: The O’Malley administration is proposing the creation of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that could be used to help regulators and law enforcement personnel investigate questionable prescriptions, and help physicians and pharmacists identify people struggling with prescription drug abuse, Alisha George reports for the Carroll County Times.

CREDIT CHECK CURBS: State lawmakers are moving to limit the ability of businesses to run credit checks on job applicants, Julie Bykowicz reports for the Sun.

SHADY CONTRACTORS: Legislation has been introduced to extend the life of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, which has regulated contractors for decades, to 2022 and some homeowner protections have been added. But advocates say the legislature could go further, reports Eileen Ambrose for the Sun.

WIND FARMS: Gov. O’Malley’s plan to promote offshore wind power in Maryland got an understandably skeptical reception from a state senate committee this week, but, opinines the Sun’s editorial board, the wind farm envisioned by the legislation would represent too great a benefit to the residents of this state to be ignored.

NO LOCAL COURTESY: Two delegates – one from Howard and one from Prince George’s – have proposed legislation to bring slots to Frederick County. What happened to local courtesy? asks the editorial board for the Frederick News Post. Is this the this latest attempt by urban lawmakers to jam legislation down the throats of rural counties – such as the renaming of Negro Mountain.

GAY MARRIAGE: In a Sun op-ed piece, Lanae Erickson and Jon Cowan of the moderate, progressive policy organization Third Way, write that for gays to gain marriage equality, they must speak the language of the middle class and talk about love and commitment, not just rights.

TOLL HIKES: The Sun’s Michael Dresser a state Department of Legislative Services document, which makes for surprisingly lively reading, dissects the finances of the Maryland Transportation Authority and explains why tolls will likely rise in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

NUCLEAR CONCERNS: Timothy Wheeler writes for the Sun that in the wake of Japan’s nuclear troubles, Marylanders face concerns and assurances over nuclear power plants Calvert Cliffs and Peach Bottom: Potential design issues, safety lapses spark criticism, but companies say plants are safe.

Here’s a map that shows the four nuclear power facilities in or near Maryland. And the Sun also compiled a photo gallery of Calvert Cliffs.

PORT EXPANSION: The state is hoping to secure the old Army depot in Glen Burnie – a 435-acre waterfront site – for expansion of the Port of Baltimore, reports Tim Pratt of the Annapolis Capital.

BARTLETT ON IRAQ: U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Frederick Republican, was an early opponent of the Iraq war, writes Megan Eckstein of the Frederick News Post. He recently sat down as the start of the war nears its 8th anniversary to reflect on the conflict.

NEW CHIEF OF STAFF: Prince George’s County Exec Rushern Baker is poised to name a former top aide to Wayne Curry to be chief of staff, Miranda Spivack reports for the Post.

WOMEN HONORED: From lawyers in business attire to law enforcement officers in dress blue uniforms, women from across the Prince George’s County government came to Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt last Thursday to honor their sisters in public service at the 26th Annual Gladys Noon Spellman Awards, writes Hamil Harris for the Post.

LEOPOLD TROUBLES: Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for Arundel County Exec John Leopold to go to events he attended mainly to stump for votes, writes the editorial board for the Annapolis Capital. Also troubling is the county executive’s admission that he probably asked his security officers to run “errands.”

BaCo FEE HIKES: Baltimore County’s House and Senate delegations in Annapolis have voted to support County Exec Kevin Kamenetz’s effort to raise liquor and business license fees, writes Steve Schuster for the Towson Times. The county delegation is working to pass the measures through the House and Senate this week.

SCHOOL SALARY: State legislators from Baltimore County are expressing concern over the $214,000 salary of a newly hired deputy schools superintendent and how the school system handled related media requests about her compensation, reports Bryan Sears of Patch.com.

Sears also writes about the ongoing struggle he and Patch.com are having getting salary information from that school system.

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