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Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Len Lazarick

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Alternative to rain tax stalls in conference committee

Delegates and staff on left meet with senators and staff on right to resolve budget differences with chief policy analyst Warren Deschenaux, center foreground, acting as moderator.

Delegates and staff on left meet with senators and staff on right to resolve budget differences with chief policy analyst Warren Deschenaux, center foreground, acting as moderator.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Jeremy@marylandreporter.com

A measure that would institute an alternative to the hotly debated stormwater management fee stalled during Wednesday’s budget conference committee negotiations.

Prince George’s County Del. Tawanna Gaines, a Democrat, asked conferees to hold the amendment while she and the senator from her district, Sen. Paul Pinsky, seek an attorney general’s opinion to determine if the amendment violates the Maryland constitution’s “one-subject” rule.

The amendment from Anne Arundel Democrat Sen. James Ed DeGrange would permit the 10 affected jurisdictions to carve out a portion of their property taxes to fund local stormwater management programs.

The constitution dictates a piece of legislation can only pertain to a single issue, and the amendment does not affect the state budget they are working on.

The Senate Budget Committee members said they thought the amendment from DeGrange had been resolved and adopted into the budget on Tuesday as part of the negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.

DeGrange said should the attorney general’s opinion conflict with his amendment, he would seek another legal perspective.

“It’s just an opinion,” DeGrange said.

Pinsky was a sponsor on the 2012 Senate bill that enacted the stormwater fees, dubbed by its opponents as a “rain tax.” Ultimately the House version passed the General Assembly that year, instituting the controversial program meant to clean up stormwater polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

Election wait time, cybersecurity amendments also included

Conferees also approved Wednesday an amendment that forces the State Board of Election to submit a report proving they cut down on wait time for voters in the 2014 election, at least under 30 minutes. Conferees agreed to withhold $25,000 of the board’s budget until the report is submitted.

Another approved amendment expanded the purview of the senate’s Joint Information Technology and Biotechnology Committee, allowing them to investigate issues of cybersecurity and subsequently make recommendations to the governor.

The move also consolidated two committees, the Joint Advisory Committee on Legislative Data and the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government. The new combined committee will report on the effectiveness of the state’s transparency policies, as well as the General Assembly’s technology systems.

Session ends Monday

Monday marks Sine Die — the official end of the 90-day legislative session, applying pressure to the budget conferees to resolve the remaining budget issues, including a provision allowing the state to seize the set and property of “House of Cards” under eminent domain.

The committee will meet again Thursday. The House and Senate are expected to meet on Saturday to finish their work.

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