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Published on April 4th, 2011 | by Cynthia Prairie

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State Roundup, April 4, 2011

BUDGET DANCE: High hurdles remain for the most ambitious pieces of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative agenda, setting up a frantic sprint in the final week of the 2011 General Assembly session if the Democrat hopes to score major victories in the first year of his second term, Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz report for the Sun.

Differences between the House and Senate versions of the governor’s pension overhaul led to a breakdown in budget talks Friday afternoon, a development that will likely mean lawmakers will miss the deadline for passing the spending plan, blogs Annie Linskey for the Sun.

Things may be more orderly in Annapolis when it comes to the horse-trading taking place to resolve budget difference. But that is only because the governor and the leaders of the General Assembly’s two chambers are like-minded Democrats. The same basic lack of realism that infects the federal politicians has infected the state, writes the editorial board for the Annapolis Capital.

PENSION SUSTAINABILITY: It is not unusual each year for the House of Delegates and Senate to disagree over parts of next year’s budget that will take them several meetings of a conference committee to resolve. What is unusual, writes Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com, is that some of the key disputes involve the long-term sustainability of the state’s pension system and benefits for retirees, and what those will cost in decades to come.

BOOZE TAX FOR BUDGET: Senate President Mike Miller said Friday he would be open raising the alcohol tax at a faster pace than it would be under current legislation, but only if the money is used to address a structural imbalance in the state budget, the AP reports in a story in the Daily Record.

The Sun’s editorial board gives a breakdown on how members of the state Senate voted on the proposed alcohol tax hike, which will take place over three years.

RX DRUG ABUSE: In an effort to battle prescription drug abuse, the 2011 General Assembly is expected to pass legislation to create a monitoring system that would require pharmacies to log each filled prescription in a database, allowing prescribers in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms or urgent care facilities to check before writing prescriptions for the same medications, Meredith Cohn reports for the Sun.

GRASMICK’S LEGACY: Nancy Grasmick’s extraordinary leadership raised the bar on what was possible for schools across the state and won Maryland national recognition as an education powerhouse. She’s going to be a tough act to follow, writes Glenn McNatt in his Second Opinion column for the Sun.

Maryland politicians have gotten plenty of mileage out of the successes of the state’s schools. But those successes can be traced back to the mileage racked up by state School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick – some of the mileage the hundreds of miles a week to attend meetings and visit schools.

MEDICAL POT: Delegates say they want to rewrite a Senate plan to decriminalize marijuana for medical patients, though many expressed support for the overall concept, Julie Bykowicz blogs for the Sun.

STEM CELL FUNDING: David Saleh Rauf of the Capital News Service reports in the Annapolis Capital that House and Senate budget writers once again are debating how much the state should spend to fund a program that’s helped make Maryland a national leader in stem cell research.

FARM BILL: Del. Kathy Afzali says her bill to protect farmers from the estate tax is not dead, but it could use some help from Marylanders, reports the Frederick News Post’s Meg Tully.

WIND DEBATE: WEAA-FM’s Marc Steiner hosted Brad Heavner, of Environment Maryland, and Jay Hancock, of the Sun, to discuss the future of wind power in Maryland. Proponents argue that it’s Maryland’s best hope for moving from fossil fuels, while opponents argue that it is more expensive and less environmentally beneficial than what proponents claim.

TRASH ENERGY: While Gov. O’Malley labors to overcome lawmakers’ reluctance to subsidize huge wind turbines off Ocean City, another bill is steaming ahead with incentives for facilities that make energy by burning trash, Timothy Wheeler reports in the Sun.

SKEPTICAL ON JOCKEY CLUB: Nick Sohr of the Daily Record reports that, beset by mounting financial problems, the Maryland Jockey Club is also facing resistance from state senators considering legislation that would extend state support for operations at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

SCHOOL BUS CAMERAS: The Post’s John Wagner blogs about the bill that would allow local jurisdictions to install monitoring cameras on school buses to catch more motorists who disregard their “stop” signs, which won approval 38 to 7 in the Senate on Friday. Motorists caught by the cameras would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $250.

Meg Tully of the Frederick News Post writes that a Frederick County delegate predicts that the House of Delegates will follow the Senate lead shortly.

ILLEGAL STUDENTS: Illegal immigrants who acquire degrees from Maryland’s public institutions of higher learning would most likely be skilled workers who could perform professional or semi-professional work, which points to amnesty, writes Don Kornreich for the Frederick News Post.

GO SLOW ON MTA HIKES: Legislators want to force an increase in Maryland Transit Administration fares for the first time in eight years. Fares will have to go up someday, but now is not the time, opines the Sun’s Andy Green in his Second Opinion column.

SCHAEFER HOSPITALIZED: A longtime aide to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer says the 89-year-old is looking better after a minor case of pneumonia, according to an AP report in the Carroll County Times.

CROWNSVILLE MOVE: General Assembly budgeters want to take a hard look at the proposed move of the state-owned Crownsville headquarters of the state Department of Housing and Community Development to rental space in Prince George’s County, Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes.

VOTE PANEL PIX: The selection of two Republicans to serve on the Baltimore County Board of Elections has rankled county Republican Party officials who say Gov. O’Malley ignored the wishes of the local party, reports Bryan Sears of Patch.com.

SUPER MEETING: Baltimore County legislators in Annapolis could finally get their meeting with county schools Superintendent Joe Hairston this week, blogs Bryan Sears at Patch.com. Hairston’s relationship with legislators, parents and teachers, according to Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, has become strained.

ROUNDUPS: Del. Kathy Szeliga offers constituents an April 1 roundup of issues in Annapolis including military voters, tax and fee hikes and transgender discrimination. Her letter is in the Dagger.

Doggie dining, sex crimes statute of limitations and Pipkin praising the press are all touched on by Andrew Schotz in his Annapolis Notes column for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

CHAMBER FOCUS: The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce said that instead of focusing its lobbying efforts in Annapolis on big money projects, it instead focused on protecting Washington County’s progress, writes Andrew Schotz for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

OBAMA TOUTS ELECTRIC FLEETS: Flanked by a half-dozen electric-powered trucks owned by companies with some of the largest vehicle fleets on the road, President Barack Obama urged businesses Friday at the UPS distribution facility in Landover to help the nation reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with more fuel-efficient models, blogs John Fritze for the Sun.

WHICH PATH TO PICK? Courtney Watson can run for a third and final term on the Howard County Council in 2014 or for a General Assembly seat, but it must be tempting to consider running for county executive instead, writes the Sun’s Larry Carson, because County Executive Ken Ulman is term-limited and out of office by the end of that year.

STEVE LARSEN: Governor Martin O’Malley’s former Public Service Commission chairman, Steve Larsen, is overseeing a multi-billion bailout for the states, labor unions, and private corporations as part of federal health care report, Mark Newgent reports in Red Maryland.

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