baltimoresun.com

« January 2011 | Main | March 2011 »

February 28, 2011

Health agency opposes medical marijuana bill

The chief of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene testified today against a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana, potentially dooming a plan that had been on track to pass the General Assembly this year.

The proposal, which cleared the Senate last year and attracted more than 60 House co-sponsors this year (71 votes are needed for passage), would have enabled doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with chronic pain or diseases and established a tightly controlled network of state-registered growers and dispensaries.

Instead, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who took over the Health Department in January, proposed a more measured first step. If a committee of lawmakers, health officials, law enforcement and interested parties agree, Maryland would mimic a research program recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

That would mean far more limited access to medical marijuana than under the General Assembly's legislation.

Del. Dan Morhaim, the House sponsor of the medical marijuana bill and the legislature's only medical doctor, agreed to Sharfstein's idea. The discussion came as two House committees heard testimony from many cancer patients, doctors and medical marijuana advocates who support Morhaim's bill.

Last year, under then-Secretary John Colmers, the department took no position on Morhaim's bill, the agency spokesman said.

But Sharfstein, a former top official with the Food and Drug Administration, testified today that Morhaim's bill may have unintended consequences -- either proving costly for the state to implement, enabling too many patients access to marijuana or both.

Sharfstein said that while many medical organizations support additional research of medical marijuana, "they have not supported state efforts to legalize" it.

Fifteen states, most recently Arizona, and the District of Columbia allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana.

Some lawmakers at the hearing also expressed concerns that until the federal government reclassifies marijuana, states are breaking the law by implementing any medical marijuana program. And before Sharfstein testified, Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, wondered whether Morhaim's bill would permit someone with back pain or other less-severe conditions to use marijuana. Morhaim stressed that a doctor would need to make that determination.

Responding to Sharfstein's testimony, Morhaim said he would work with the Health Department to either amend his bill to conform to the Institute of Medicine recommendations or continue studying the issue.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:51 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 25, 2011

House same-sex marriage hearing underway

The House committee hearing on whether to allow same-sex couples to marry opened this afternoon with testimony from bill sponsors, openly gay legislators and other supporters.

"This is not about abstractions," said Del. Heather Mizeur, as she introduced her wife, Deborah. "This is not about definitions."

The two married in 2008 in California, yet, the Montgomery County Democrat said, "right now we are legal strangers to each other."

After an hour, the committee switched to opponents and will continue to alternate as it makes its way through dozens of scheduled witnesses today. The audience has spilled over into a second viewing room.

Pastors, lawyers and the chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage were among the opponents to testify this afternoon. "Most of my adult relationships are untouched by the law," said Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage. Of heterosexual marriage, she said, "these are the only unions that create new life."

Chairman Joseph Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat, kicked off the hearing by saying his House Judiciary Committee would likely vote on the measure early next week. It is expected to clear the committee; a majority of members are co-sponsors.

The House testimony comes a day after the Senate voted 25-21 to approve legislation that would end Maryland's 38-year-old definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The measure's fate on the House floor remains a mystery, as the larger chamber appears about evenly split.

Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat supportive of same-sex marriage, delivered spicy testimony, poking fun at Eastern Shore Republicans and saying he'd reviewed the witness list and found that "God has not signed up either for or against" the legislation. Same-sex marriage opponents in the audience booed.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell said the state should continue its 400-year tradition of tolerance. He urged lawmakers to focus on the separation of church and state. "We don't make laws solely based on religious doctrine," said the Baltimore Democrat.

Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican who has called himself "the face of the opposition" began his testimony with a prayer. He implored legislators to look to their faith.

"Look deep into your soul for the answer," he said.

Testimony is expected to continue for hours.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:11 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Senate denies request by Benson to vote late

Sen. Joanne C. Benson this morning asked her colleagues to let her cast a vote on the same-sex marriage bill -- a full 17 hours after the rest of the body approved the controversial measure 25-21. (See the final vote tally after the jump.)

"As you know I was not here for that wonderful bill we voted on," Benson told other senators. She said she would have voted no.

The newly elected Prince George's County Democrat was on the floor for a 6 p.m. cloture vote on the issue, but explained that she left because she was under the impression the vote would be called at 7 p.m.

Believing she had an hour to spare, she took a phone call and was absent when the vote was called about 30 minutes earlier than expected.

Other senators grumbled at her request Friday morning. The rest of them had stayed on the floor and missed appointments.

When Sen. David Brinkley rose to ask the senators to extend the same courtesy to Sen. J.B. Jennings, who will miss a series of votes because he has been called to active duty, it became clear that there would be opposition to Benson's request.

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller denied it.

"Let that be a lesson to the new folks," Miller said.

Photo: Benson, as a member of  the House of Delegates. She was elected to the Senate last November. 

Final Vote tally
For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

Absent
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:38 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 24, 2011

Senate approves same-sex marriage

The state Senate voted 25-21 Thursday evening to recognize same-sex marriage, sending the bill to the House of Delegates, which will begin hearing testimony on Friday.

Read more at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:12 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Senate will hold same-sex marriage vote at 7 p.m.

The Senate voted 30-17 to cut off debate on the same-sex marriage bill and hold at vote a 7 p.m. this evening.

Each side will be allowed to speak for an additional 30 minutes.

Six senators who do no support same-sex marriage voted to cut off debate including:

Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat

Interestingly Sen. Allan Kittleman who said he will support same-sex marriage, voted with his Republican colleagues against cloture. However, Kittleman waited until most of the votes were on the board before pressing his red button.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:05 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Senate vote on same-sex marriage expected tonight

Senators launched the final phase of their debate on the same-sex marriage bill this morning. The body discussed the bill for about two hours this morning.

They will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. and many expect to hold the final vote this evening.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the Civil Marriage Protection Act with a 25-22 vote yesterday, a strong signal that the bill will achieve final passage. GOP leaders have threatened to filibuster the measure, but they've acknowledged they don't have the votes to stall the bill indefinitely.

The debate this morning remained remarkably civil, given lawmakers were discussing an issue on which many have strong opinions.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, the only openly gay member of the Senate, said the current law defining marriage as between a man and a woman: "makes thousands of families never forget that they are outsiders."

He said that many couples in Maryland "are wishing for this." Predicting that the body will pass the bill he said: "This will be a memorable day that will improve thousands of families around the state."

Opponents also invoked history. Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the "journals of history" will record Feb. 24, 2011 "as the day traditional marriage died in Maryland." If the House approves the bill, Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will sign it.

Sen. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican with a libertarian bent, said the state is moving too quickly to full marriage and would prefer Maryland to try out civil unions first. An effort turn the legislation into a civil unions bill in committee failed overwhelmingly.

The issue is not dividing strictly on party lines: Former Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman will support the bill and wore a necktie adorned with pictures of President Abraham Lincoln to celebrate the day.

-- Photo credit Julie Bykowicz.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:34 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 23, 2011

Statue debate: Tubman, Hanson backers make case

Sen. Catherine Pugh at a hearing today urged her fellow lawmakers to support a proposal to place a statue of Harriet Tubman in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall Collection.

Each state can have only two representatives, and since 1903, Maryland's have been John Hanson, a president of the Continental Congress, and Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Pugh's proposal, promoted by the NAACP and National Organization of Women, means that Hanson would have to go. Tubman, an Eastern Shore-born slave who led dozens to freedom on the Underground Railroad, would be the 10th woman and only African American in the collection.

"History changes. Time changes. Everything changes," said Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat. "This country has progressed."

Gov. Martin O'Malley supports the Tubman proposal. A House of Delegates committee also held a hearing today on the matter.

At the Senate hearing, Hanson descendant and scholar Peter Michael called Hanson "the only Marylander to serve in the nation's highest office."

Michael suggested that Maryland "take the lead" by asking Congress to expand the collection to allow more than two statues per state. Some lawmakers on the committee seemed supportive of that idea.

"I don't like the idea that we're going to take a Marylander like John Hanson out," said Roy Dyson, a St. Mary's County Democrat. 

But many of the Tubman supporters said state lawmakers should focus on the parameters Congress has given them. The president of the Maryland NOW chapter said she was offended by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's suggestion that Congress make a separate collection for additional statues. (Miller, a Southern Maryland Democrat, is a Hanson supporter.)

Moonyene Jackson-Amis, an Easton resident, said the issue of whether to trade statues is simple in her mind: "I want to see somebody who looks like me."

(Photo by The Sun's Kim Hairston) 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:29 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Same-sex marriage bill passes first hurdle in Senate

Maryland's Senate voted 25-22 in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry after a fairly short and focused debate.

The bill has not yet cleared the body, but the vote is a positive sign for supporters of the legislation. It could go to final passage as early as Thursday. (See vote tally after the jump.)

The supporters beat back a series of unfriendly amendments during the morning debate. Most were offered by Republican members who wanted to make technical changes to the bill that would allow more people or businesses to opt-out of providing services at same-sex wedding ceremonies.

The bill was amended so that religious organizations - like the Knights of Columbus - would not have to provide insurance to same-sex couples. Bill sponsors supported the change.

The only unfriendly change adopted was Sen. Anthony Muse's suggestion to name the bill the "Civil Marriage Protection Act." It was introduced as the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.

The tone of the debate was fairly restrained, through after a several amendments were withdrawn, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller sounded slightly irritated with his members.

"I think we are going way too far with these amendments," Miller said. "It is going a little too far. I think they are well intended, but I think we are going too far."

Vote tally
For
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:17 PM | | Comments (72)
        

Maryland retains coveted AAA bond rating

Maryland remains one of eight states with the highest possible credit rating, a reflection, Gov. Martin O'Malley said this morning, of "tough choices" and "fiscal responsibility."

Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch assigned the state its AAA rating in preparation for the sale of $485 million in general obligation bonds next month.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said the assessment shows that Maryland's fiscal picture is "basically strong with a recovering economy." The treasurer, who is up for reappointment tomorrow by the General Assembly, praised the Democratic governor and legislature for tackling long-term debt issues like the pension system and health care. 

Republicans quickly dispatched statements saying the rating is more a measure of the agencies' belief that Marylanders are amenable to higher taxes. "All a AAA bond rating means is you are willing to raise Any tax, Anytime, on Anyone," Eastern Shore Republican Del. Michael Smigiel posted on his Twitter account.

In its report, Moody's said its rating "reflects Maryland's strong financial management policies, stable economy with high personal income levels and ability to maintain positive available reserves despite sustained pressure on its budget."

The report says Moody's rating also accounted for "the state's above-average debt burden and low retirement system funding levels."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:19 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Administration
        

February 22, 2011

Lawmakers contemplate 'Negro Mountain'

A committee of senators today heard testimony about whether to rename Western Maryland's Negro Mountain.

Sen. Lisa Gladden is seeking a commission to study the issue. Many historians believe the peak, which crosses into Pennsylvania, is meant to honor a black frontiersman who died defending white settlers from Native Americans. In most accounts, his name is Nemesis.

"We're clear that Negro Mountain has a name," Gladden told her colleagues. "We need to make history as right as we can."

The Baltimore Democrat argues that the mountain should be called Nemesis Mountain. She was the only person to testify in favor of her proposal. Western Maryland's four lawmakers, all Republicans, testified against her, saying their constituents want to preserve the name out of respect for history.

"The point here is it was done in honor of, and I think that needs to be maintained," said Sen. George Edwards.

The senators on the Education, Health and Environment Committee had few questions, though some offered their views after the supporters and opponents testified.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and a co-sponsor of Gladden's proposal, said she could not understand why the Western Maryland lawmakers oppose honoring the man with his name, rather than his race. Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Montgomery County Democrat, suggested that Americans might take issue with calling Washington, D.C., "White Man City," or Mount Whitney, "White Man's Mountain."

The House of Delegates has not set a hearing date on the issue. If the General Assembly were to approve Gladden's proposal, a renaming commission would be formed. Any change would need to be approved by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which in 1994 rejected a Pennsylvania man's effort to rename the peak "Black Hero Mountain."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:07 PM | | Comments (42)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Wisc. on minds, labor, tea party rally in Annapolis

Hoisting signs that read "we are all cheeseheads" and "solidarity," Maryland public-sector unions rallied today in Annapolis to show suppport for their counterparts in Wisconsin.

Nearby, tea party activists also gathered. Their signs, including one that read "broke means broke," expressed support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is trying to end collective bargaining for that state's employees.

As The Sun noted in a story this morning, the efforts of Walker and Wisconsin's Republican state legislature would be unlikely to find much legislative support in deeply Democratic Maryland. But union leaders here say the discord reflects a rising national trend against government employee unions.

"There are sharp attacks on public workers in a number of states," said Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO. He pointed to layoffs, pay cuts and benefit reductions occurring in states across the country.

"Wisconsin just happens to be very blatant about what it is doing," he said.

Pictured: Maryland labor rally. More photos after the jump. 

Pictured: Tea party gathers in support of Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker (top), O.P. Ditch of Elkridge (middle), labor groups attract crowds and Democratic legislators (bottom). 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:45 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Other states may extend rights to gay couples

Maryland's state senate is expected to begin debating the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act on Wednesday -- it's one of several state legislative bodies across the country poised to extend rights to same sex couples.

Hawaii: Newly elected Democratic Gov. Neil Abercromie is expected to sign into law a bill allowing civil unions on Wednesday. The state's legislature has approved civil unions several times in the past only to have it vetoed by the previous Republican governor.

Rhode Island: Newly elected Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, says he will sign a same-sex marriage bill into law. Also, the Speaker of the House in RI is gay, and co-sponsored the measure. A bill has been heard in a House Judiciary Committee.

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo campaigned on same-sex marriage and said earlier this month he will push the New York state legislature to pass a measure. A similar bill failed last year in the senate  after passing in the state assembly. The New York Times notes that Cuomo has an uphill battle since the senate became more conservative after November's elections.

California: The state's supreme court said it will weigh-in on whether a ballot initiative that denied gay marriage should be overturned on procedural grounds. The CA court is not expected to rule until the end of the year.

Illinois: In January Illinois' governor signed into a law a civil unions bill for gay couples.

Same sex-marriage are allowed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:35 AM | | Comments (5)
        

February 19, 2011

O'Malley: GOP governors 'live in a different world'

Richmond, VA — Gov. Martin O’Malley stepped into the national spotlight as the head of Democratic Governors Association for first time Saturday night, delivering a twenty minute address to Virginia Democrats that urged government investments in education and infrastructure.

The themes he struck echoed his inaugural address and campaign stump speeches: Democrats should not run away from traditional priorities even in difficult economic times. Keeping schools and transportation projects funded will help states “move forward, not backward,” he said.

Political observers have been keeping close tabs on O’Malley since he became the head of the DGA late last year. Others, including former President Bill Clinton, used the job to build a national profile. O’Malley is term limited.

The governor has made frequent trips Washington, DC in the past two months and he’s sharpened his partisan rhetoric, tangling in the media with the Republican governors of Florida and New Jersey.

O’Malley’s address, delivered to about 1,400 at Virginia Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, was laced with partisan remarks. The governor derided the “current crop of tea partying Republican governors” saying they “live in a different world.”

“The Republican governors’ tea party is more Mad Hatter than James Madison,” O’Malley said. He took another jab at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, calling the Republican darling a “colorful character.” For the Republicans, he said, “There is no need to pay bills, no need to protect bond ratings, no need to invest in the future. Down is up, up is down; candy is a vegetable, and vegetables are candy.”

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: DGA
        

February 18, 2011

GOP official names black cow Oprah

A Republican leader on the Eastern Shore has angered some members of her party by having a black Angus cow named Oprah.

Diana Waterman, the newly elected First Vice Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party noted on Facebook that the family cow, Oprah, recently birthed a calf. (She joked that the newborn would not be called "Veal.")

The post caught the attention of Sveinn C. Storm, who runs a Queen Anne's County-focused blog called "Pave Our County?" The blog mostly focuses on development related issues.

Naming a cow after an African-American  talk show host who has struggled with her weight is "precisely why an enormous number of Americans view Republicans as racists," Storm wrote. He identifies himself as a Republican.

We emailed Waterman, and she had a different take. The family owns three adult cows: Oprah, Ferdinand and Isabella.

She said the black Angus was named by her children "after a famous person they admire." The two others, also named by the children, honor the Spanish monarchs who approved Christopher Columbus' trip to the New World.

"That’s all there is to it," Waterman wrote.

The Maryland state party wasn't impressed with the flap.

"With Maryland facing a record budget deficit, historic unemployment and a government that spends beyond its means - I’m not sure why we’re talking about cows when we could be addressing these real problems facing our state,” said Maryland GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:42 PM | | Comments (46)
        

O'Malley makes pitch for federal $$$ spurned by Fla.

Sun transportation writer Michael Dresser has a post on his Getting There blog about an unusual request by Gov. Martin O'Malley:

Seeking to capitalize on Florida Gov. Rick Scott's decision to turn down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, Gov. Martin O'Malley has asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to shift much of the money to projects in Maryland and other places along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

In a letter dated today, O'Malley urged LaHood to move much of that money to projects such as the estimated $1 billion construction of a new tunnel to replace the century-old B&P Tunnel just south of Penn Station. That tunnel is regarded as a critical bottleneck slowing trains on the Northeast Corridor.

O'Malley also outlined several other Maryland projects that could benefit from an infusion of a transfer of the money spurned this week by Florida's new Republican governor, who expressed objections to government spending on a project the previous administration had eagerly sought.

Read more on Mike's Getting There blog.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
        

February 17, 2011

Gay marriage has the votes to clear Md. Senate

Sen. James Rosapepe just issued an email to constituents saying that he will support the same-sex marriage bill. That means 24 senators have publicly committed to vote for the bill -- enough for passage.

Here's the contents of the email that Rosapepe sent out, note that he supports the bill "as amended" -- so other changes to the bill could theoretically change his support:

Thanks for contacting me to let me know of your support for SB 116, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. I am writing to let you know that it was passed today by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and will be voted on the Senate floor next week.
I intend to vote for the bill as it was reported out of Committee with a strengthened conscience clause to respect the views of religious denominations which do not recognize same sex marriage. I don’t know what other amendments may be proposed on the Senate floor but will keep your concerns in mind as we consider them.
I appreciate so much the time you and many other constituents have taken to share with me your reasons for supporting the bill.
Please feel free to be in touch with me on issues of concern to you and whenever I can be of help.
 
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:15 PM | | Comments (29)
        

Senate panel supports same-sex marriage

The Senate Judiciary committee just voted in favor of the same-sex marriage bill by a 7 to 4 margin. The legislation will next move to the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill next week.

One substantive amendment was adopted: A measure to add more protections to religious groups that would not want anything to do with same-sex wedding ceremonies or celebrations. The amendment was supported by the Maryland Catholic Conference, which still opposes the underlying bill.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:47 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Senate committee backs gay marriage

Annie Linskey reports:

As expected, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 Thursday to recognize same-sex marriage. The legislation now goes to the full Senate for debate next week.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller warned senators Thursday to be "flexible" with their evening schedules next week, and said the body might even have to work on the weekend. In addition to same-sex marriage, other issues that evoke passions -- including oyster poaching -- are set to hit the floor.

Miller predicted that debate on same-sex marriage would start in earnest on Tuesday.

"I want everyone to have their say," he said. "When it appears people are repeating themselves, then we will take a cloture vote."

The senate president guessed the final passage vote would come Monday Feb. 28.

Advocates believe they have the votes to cut off debate and bring the legislation to a vote. Whether they have the votes for passage is much less clear. Twenty-three senators have said they'd vote for the bill, but 24 are needed. (See vote list after the jump.)

Three senators have not publicly declared their intentions -- though one, Baltimore's Joan Carter Conway, has hinted that she'll support the bill.

The other two undecided senators faced a scrum of reporters this morning after session. Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents College Park, rebuffed questions from WBAL's Dave Collins. Holding his hand up to his face, Rosapepe said: "No, comment." And then quickly walked down the statehouse stairs. Rosapepe has said he will announce his position before the week is out.

Anne Arundel County's Sen. John Astle also wouldn't declare his intentions until the vote is called.

"You'll see it on the board," he said. "Watch it on the board when I cast my vote."

Meanwhile, House leaders have already scheduled a committee hearing for their version of the bill on Friday Feb. 25.

Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat

Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat

Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat

Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat

Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against

Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat

Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat

Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican

Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat

Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat

Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat

Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican

Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties

Republican Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican

Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican

Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat

Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican

Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican Sen.

Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican

Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided

Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat

Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat (opposes)

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat (supports)

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)

Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:34 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Same-sex marriage on Senate floor next week

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is set to vote a few hours from now on the controversial same-sex marriage bill, but Senate leaders are already assuming the measure will clear the panel and are planning for a week of debate on the divisive issue.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller warned senators to be "flexible" with their evening schedules and said the body might even have to work on the weekend. In addition the same-sex marriage, other issues that evoke passions -- including oyster poaching -- are set to be on the floor.

Miller predicted that debate on same-sex marriage would start in earnest on Tuesday. "I want everyone to have their say," he said. "When it appears people are repeating themselves, then we will take a cloture vote."
The senate president guessed the final passage vote would come Monday Feb. 28.

Advocates believe they have the votes to cut off debate. Whether they have the votes for final passage is much less clear. Twenty-three senators have said they'd vote for the bill, but 24 are needed. (See vote list after the jump.)
Three senators have not publicly declared their intentions -- though one, Baltimore's Joan Carter Conway, has hinted that she'll support the bill.

The other two undecided senators faced a scrum of reporters this morning after session. Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents College Park, rebuffed questions from WBAL's Dave Collins. Holding his hand up to his face, Rosapepe said: "No, comment." And then quickly walked down the statehouse stairs.

Rosapepe has said he will announce his position before the week is out.

Anne Arundel County's Sen. John Astle also wouldn't declare his intentions until the vote is called. "You'll see it on the board," he said. "Watch it on the board when I cast my vote."

Meanwhile, House leaders have already scheduled a committee hearing for their version of the bill on Friday Feb. 25.

Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat (opposes)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat (supports)
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:07 AM | | Comments (17)
        

February 16, 2011

Slots interference bill gets quick hearing

The sponsor of legislation designed to prevent the state’s slots licensees from interfering in each other's business ventures told a state Senate panel considering the bill Wednesday that it was essential to “protecting the state’s revenue.”

Sen. James E. DeGrange, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, spoke briefly before the committee this afternoon

“When you have a slots license, you’re an agent of the state and you shouldn’t be interfering in any way shape or form,” DeGrange said.

The issue has come to the forefront recently as the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., which holds a slots license in Anne Arundel County, has sought to construct a 4,750-slot machine parlor at Arundel Mills mall. The Maryland Jockey Club, which is partially owned by Penn National Gaming, mounted a ballot referendum to prevent Cordish from building the casino. Penn National developed and owns a new casino in Perryville.

Cordish filed a $600 million lawsuit against the Jockey Club, Penn National and the several other entities yesterday, alleging that the companies conspired to spread falsehoods about Cordish’s management of a casino in Indiana, in order to prevent him from winning support to build the casino in Anne Arundel County.

Members of the Senate and Budget Taxation Committee, which heard the bill, did not pose any questions. No other witnesses were called.

DeGrange is co-sponsoring the bill along with Edward J. Kasemeyer, chairman of the committee.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler weighed in on the issue last year, after Cordish asked the Maryland Lottery Commission to “levy substantial fines” against Penn National for its involvement in the campaign. Gansler found that the lottery commission did not have the authority to regulate “election-related activities of its licensees” because those would be considered protected under free speech.

In a letter to the committee, Eric Schippers, a senior vice president at Penn National, called the bill “overly broad [and] unduly vague” and “squarely directed at protected political speech.”

Schippers also refers to the Cordish suit filed yesterday, saying it is “meritless and full of unsupported facts and innuendo” and says the bill would prevent defendants such as Penn National from “presenting a full and complete defense against this baseless suit.”
He adds, “[The bill] is an unprecedented limitation on a party’s rights to fully avail itself of the protections of the judicial system.”


-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Rawlings-Blake tweaks redistricting plan

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released some tweaks to her City Council redistricting plan today as the council prepares for a 5 p.m. hearing on the new map.

The city's population dropped by 30,000 over the past decade, one-third more than Rawlings-Blake had estimated when drawing the districts. A quirk of city law required the preliminary map to be released in early February, before official Census data was available.

The amendments to the redistricting map are relatively minor.

Among the changes: parts of Guilford and Mt Pleasant Park that had been been excised will now remain in the 4th district. Pen Lucy, which was in the 14th district, will be moved to the 4th. The 8th district will now extend up to Liberty Heights Avenue, adding Howard Park, which was formerly part of the 5th district. And all of Druid Heights will me moved from the 11th district to the 7th.

The most major shift in Rawlings-Blake's original proposal
-- the peninsula that includes Federal Hill and Locust Point being moved from the 10th district to the 11th -- remains in play. Political insiders speculate the move was made to bolster Council Vice President Ed Reisinger's chances of re-election. He has tepid support in Federal Hill and stronger alliances in the Southwest neighborhoods that would be part of his district according to the plan.

Redistricting plans have prompted some strong reactions from community members in the past. It will be interesting to see what residents say at this, the first of several planned public hearings.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

Students, activists seek in-state tuition for immigrants

Dozens of supporters and opponents filled a Senate hearing room this afternoon as lawmakers heard testimony on a proposal  to give illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates at public universities.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat, and would extend the tuition offer only to students whose families pay taxes. A similar plan was approved in 2003 by the General Assembly, but vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Gov. Martin O'Malley has indicated that he would sign the bill.

"This legislation is about hope and about dreams," Ramirez said, testifying before his Senate colleagues. He noted that state residents pay about $8,600 per year to attend a public school like the University of Maryland, College Park, while out of state students pay about $25,000.

Supporters wore black T-shirts saying, "I am Maryland. Youth can DREAM," a reference to a failed recent attempt by President Barack Obama to provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants through schooling or military service. Many opponents of Ramirez's bill were from a statewide anti-illegal immigrant group called Help Save Maryland. They wore stickers with a red strike across the name Casa de Maryland, a state-supported group that assists immigrants.

(Opponents and supporters pictured.)

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker is among those who support the in-state tuition plan. In written testimony, he said, "Maryland should be investing in all students who live and learn and contribute to our state, regardless of where they were born."

Blake Sutherland of Ridgely in Caroline County plans to testify against the measure, saying the state needs to do more to discourage and penalize illegal immigration. He was joined by about 30 others from Help Save Maryland in the Senate hearing room.

Questions of witnesses showed some senators on the Education, Health and Environment Committee have strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, committee chairwoman, is a co-sponsor of the bill, while Sen. Bryan Simonaire asked rhetorically why legal U.S. citizens from other states should have to pay more for schooling than students who are illegally in the country.

Tune in here for a live-stream of the EHE hearing, likely to continue for hours. Among the first to testify were lobbyists and officials from K-12 and higher education groups, including the University System of Maryland.

Amid continued federal inaction, Maryland lawmakers are hearing testimony on dozens of immigrant-related bills this year.

"We're acting in Maryland," Ramirez said at the hearing Wednesday, "because federal action has been hindered." 

On Tuesday, Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, is seeking to bar state colleges and universities from providing undocumented immigrants with in-state tuition rate, something currently done only by a Montgomery County community college. McDonough has introduced many related measures, including a bill that would require proof of lawful presence to collect public benefits.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:28 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

"Developer B" throws bday fundraiser for Rawlings-Blake

Patrick Turner, a developer who played a key role in the trial of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, is throwing a birthday bash and fundraiser for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake next month.

Guests will enjoy "amazing culinary treats and drinks" from Ruth's Chris, The Wine Market and Miguel's Cocina and Cantina in the penthouse suite at Turner's Silo Point luxury condominium building on March 2, according to the invitation.

Tickets run from $1,000 to 125 for the fete, with discounts available for "public servants," according to the invitation.

Turner and his wife Jeanine, a model-turned-artist, are among the 30 members of the party's host committee.

Turner's testimony that he delivered a stack of $1,000 in gift cards to City Hall in 2005 played a key role in Dixon's 2009 trial on embezzlement charges. Turner , who was identified as "Developer B" in court documents, said he thought the cards were to be distributed to poor children. Dixon used some of the cards to buy gifts for family and employees.

Turner appeared uneasy on the witness stand. Here is how my colleagues Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz described him at the time:

"Turner, whose $1.4 billion planned community of offices, stores and housing in Westport is benefiting from the largest tax incentive the city has ever approved, appeared uncomfortable on the stand. He gripped the wooden arms of the witness chair and smoothed his mustache and beard, sometimes quickly dabbing his lips with a napkin. His face reddened at times, and he frequently glanced toward the defense table, where Dixon sat scribbling notes."

Other members of the host committee include developers Thibault Manekin, Arsh Mirmiran and Evan Morville, along with Peter Auchincloss, a former city planning commission chair and president of the Watermark Corporation.

Rawlings-Blake has a huge fundraising edge over her competitors in the mayor's race. She had raised $840,000 by late last month, more than twice as month as all of her challengers combined. She raised $600,000 at a single event that was scheduled for the same night comedian Bill Cosby appeared at an event for her competitor and former city planning director Otis Rolley.

Many of Rawlings-Blake's donations have come from developers and contractors who do business with the city, which is certainly not unexpected for an incumbent mayor.

Incidentally, the birthday celebration comes a little early for Rawlings-Blake. She will turn 41 on St. Patrick's Day, March 17.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:17 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall
        

Currie will vote no on same-sex marriage

Prince George's County Sen. Ulysses Currie said today he will not support the same-sex marriage bill, a decision that winnows the group of undecided senators to three.

"It has as much to do with my past ... growing up with the church in the south," said Currie this afternoon. "It is just my background. Where I grew up."

Currie, 73, is from North Carolina. "The church was the only thing we had," he said.

In recent days there's been a focus on the handful of senators who have not decided how they will vote on the bill. Final passage in the senate requires 24 votes. Twenty-three senators are either sponsors of the bill or have said publicly that they support the measure. (See senators' positions on the bill after the jump.)

One of the three remaining wavering senators, Baltimore's Sen. Joan Carter Conway, has said she will not support the bill if it fails, but will "pray really hard" for guidance if she is the 24th voter. That's led some advocates to believe she will support the bill if her vote is needed.

The bill is expected to be voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Thursday and could be on the senate floor as early as next week. Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat (opposes)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat (supports)
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:53 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Don't read texts while driving, lawmakers say

Not long ago, Sgt. Holly Barrett of the Maryland State Police pulled over a young woman who'd blown through a red light while looking at her cell phone. The driver, Barrett told lawmakers Tuesday, was so distracted that she had stopped, started to read the messages, and then — not realizing the light was still red — stepped on the gas.

Two years ago, state legislators outlawed writing or sending messages while driving. Last year, they banned talking on handheld cell phones as a secondary offense, making it illegal, but requiring police to have another reason, such as speeding, to initiate a traffic stop.

Now lawmakers are pushing again to expand prohibitions on cell phone use behind the wheel. Proposals this year include a ban on reading texts or electronic messages such as e-mails while driving, and enabling officers to pull over drivers talking on their handheld devices even if they are not breaking any other laws.

Legislative leaders say the reading ban, reviewed Tuesday by House and Senate committees, is likely to become law this year, but they believe making cell phone use a primary offense might have to wait.

No one testified against the reading ban at Tuesday's hearing. Supporters include the Maryland State Police, AAA, insurance brokers and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Tom Hicks, an official with the supportive State Highway Administration, called the legislation "almost a housekeeping matter."

Some legislators have been reluctant to criminalize driver behavior. The handheld cell ban passed the Senate last year by just one vote.

Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat who voted against the bill last year said drivers do many things — putting on makeup, eating, reading the newspaper — that are just as unsafe as using a cell phone.

"Do we really need to go down the list and address each one individually?" he asked. "There are laws against reckless driving."

Part of the effort this year is to clear up confusion about the cell phone laws.

Barrett said some of her fellow police colleagues don't realize Maryland's texting law contains the nuance that allows reading.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is one of the sponsors of the proposed reading ban, said Maryland has "this strange law where police have to try to figure out if somebody's writing a text or reading a text."

But much about Maryland's approach to cell phones and driving is complicated.

Officers can pull drivers over for writing or sending (but not reading) text messages even if they are breaking no other laws. They can't do that if they spot drivers chatting away.

The texting ban applies only to drivers who are in the travel portion of the roadway, even if stopped dead in traffic. To legally text, a driver needs to pull onto the shoulder. However, it's perfectly legal for a driver to talk on a cell phone while stopped because the law prohibits it only "while in motion."

Penalties also differ. Texting violators are subject to a maximum fine of $500 and one point on their driving record. Talkers face a maximum fine of $40 and no points unless the driver contributes to an accident.

Del. James E. Malone, a Baltimore County Democrat, is pushing legislation to make the talking restrictions mirror the texting restrictions by prohibiting all use of handheld devices while in lanes of traffic.

His bill, supported by law enforcement officials, also would make talking a primary offense. Malone compared the cell phone issue to seat belt laws put on the books years ago. At first, failure to wear a seat belt was a secondary offense. When it became a primary offense, he said, compliance "shot up dramatically." It's now about 96 percent, he said.

Malone believes that as drivers realize that they can't be pulled over for talking unless they're doing something else wrong, "they're taking the chance of using the phone."

The Senate and House of Delegates both passed bans on reading texts while behind the wheel last year, but slightly different wording in the two bills doomed it in the final hours of the legislative session.

Electronic messages included in the proposed ban include emails, tweets and videos. Of the 30 states that have outlawed texting while driving, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation, just five ban writing but not reading.

There are exceptions in the existing and proposed texting laws for using a global positioning device or contacting emergency services.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:54 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 15, 2011

O'Malley supports tightening LLC loophole

Gov. Martin O'Malley today said he wants to cut back the amounts of money that limited liability corporations can pour into Maryland political races and threw his support behind a bill that would make it more difficult to use them to funnel money into campaigns.

The legislation, backed by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat from Howard and Baltimore, changes the law so groups of LLCs with similar owners are treated as one corporation. That means checks written from similar LLCs would count against the $10,000 limit on donors.

"It is my view that Maryland's laws would better meet the dual goals of transparency and accurate disclosure if this loophole is closed," said O'Malley in a letter sent today to House Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Sheila Hixson.

Currently each LLC is treated separately, which allows wealthy businesses with multiple LLCs, often developers, to legally exceed limits. For example, Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz reported about a single Baltimore County real-estate developer who used nine LLCs to contribute $28,000 to one candidate in a single day.

O'Malley also said he support increasing the contribution limits. Currently, $4,000 can be contributed per candidate per four year cycle. Donors are limit to giving $10,000 per cycle. The governor also said in his letter  that he supports increasing those contribution limits, but did not say by how much.
 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 14, 2011

Sen. Klausmeier also to vote yes to gay marriage

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier said Monday that she has decided to vote in favor of same-sex marriage, putting the measure within a breath of passage in the Senate.

"I just weighed all of the options," said the Baltimore County Democrat, who earlier told The Sun that she was torn about the issue. "It's about fairness."

Klausmeier becomes the second previously undeclared senator in a day to lend support to advocates, who plan a rally Monday evening. Earlier, Sen. Edward Kasemeyer said he has decided to back it. (The two are pictured on the right.)

That gives the legislation a solid 23 yes votes, out of 24 needed for Senate approval. Sen. Joan Carter Conway has said that if she appears to be the 24th vote, she will "pray really hard" and decide what to do.

With the Senate's approval, the same-sex marriage plan would move to the House of Delegates, where it has at least enough votes to make it out of committee and to the floor for a full-chamber debate.

More on Conway -- and a full list of senators and how they plan to vote -- after the jump.

Here's what Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, told The Sun earlier this month:

Conway is one of several senators who wishes the debate were about civil unions. She said she whole-heartedly supports the concept, though "it took me a long time to get there."

She is uncertain whether she can make the leap to backing gay marriage. She finds herself torn between her religious background and her sympathies for minority groups.

As a black woman, she said, she views herself as a "double minority" — and so is uncomfortable with casting a vote that would cause anyone to feel subjected to discrimination.

Conway said her district, which includes Ednor Gardens, Waverly, Guilford and other North Baltimore neighborhoods, is about evenly split on the issue. The three delegates in her district are co-sponsoring the House version of the legislation.

Conway said she would not support the Senate bill if it appears to be failing. But if there are 23 "yes" votes on the board, she said, she will "pray really hard" and make her choice.

Reached Monday by phone, Conway said she is "still praying" and "probably close" to making a decision.

A group of her constituents were among hundreds of advocates who rallied on the plaza in front of the State House Monday evening to support the bill. Lorie Benning, 41, of Northeast Baltimore had a bouquet of carnations for Conway. (Photographed on the right).

"I think it needs to be passed," Benning said. She plans to marry her partner over the summer and said she hopes to have the ceremony in Maryland.

Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed.

Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat (supports)
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:42 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

V-Day gift for gay advocates: Kasemeyer will support same-sex marriage

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer said this afternoon that he will support the controversial same-sex marriage bill, giving the measure 22 of the 24 votes it would need to clear the senate.

Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents Howard and Baltimore counties, had not previously said how he planned to vote on the bill. Many had believed he would not support it because he represents a conservative area.

His pledge means there are five senators who either have not decided how they will vote or have declined to share their position publicly. (See full vote list after the jump.)

This year changes in a key senate panel delivered advocates the best chance they've ever had to legalize same-sex marriage. They believe that they have the 29 votes needed to cut off debate in the chamber and vote. The bill is expected to be voted out of committee this Thursday.

Advocates for the bill will shower legislators with carnations following an afternoon rally to support the bill. One organizer estimated that roughly 700 flowers will be distributed to various senators.

Each flower represents a phone call made to the senator on behalf of the bill. In some districts nobody called, and those senators will be empty handed this evening. Senators not receiving flowers include: Sen. Anthony Muse, who opposes the bill; and Sens. Nancy King and Verna Jones-Rodwell, who are cosponsors. Sen. Ulysses Currie, who has not yet decided how he will vote, will not receive a flower.

Next week, when the bill is expected to come to the senate floor, the Catholic Conference will hold their lobby day. They oppose the legislation.
Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat (supports)
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat (supports)
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:08 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

February 11, 2011

Disabilities advocates rally for alcohol tax money

More than 100 advocates for Marylanders with developmental disabilities rallied today in front of the State House, imploring passing lawmakers to increase the alcohol tax and send more aid their way.

The General Assembly is considering the so-called "dime-a-drink" proposal, but many lawmakers have said that if alcohol taxes are raised, they want any increased revenues to flow to the strapped general fund, not to specific causes. 

Chanting "DD link, dime a drink" and "Ten cents makes sense," the supporters thrust cardboard dimes into the air and distributed information about disabilities funding. From his wheelchair, Aaron Kaufman (pictured), who has cerebral palsy, said he sees the issue as "about whether the legislature choose the people or the powerful." The alcoholic beverages lobby has campaigned against the bill.

Kaufman, a member of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said he knows lawmakers would prefer to push any increased revenue into the general fund but urged them to slice off a piece to help pay for services for the developmentally disabled.

"We will not tire until at least some of the money is devoted to us," he said.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Currie's former campaign treasurer guilty of theft

Olivia Harris, the former campaign treasurer to Sen. Ulysses Currie, pleaded guilty to theft over $100,000 this afternoon in an Anne Arundel County Court, according to the Office of the State Prosecutor.

Harris withdrew $157,350 from Currie's campaign account from January 2007 to April 2010, prosecutors said. The money was spent "for personal use" according to the prosecutors, but they did not detail what she bought.

"Campaign officers are fiduciaries of the contributions that are committed to them," said State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt in a statement. "When they violate that trust, we will hold them accountable."

Harris worked as Currie's treasurer for 16 years and left her position in August shortly before she was charged. She could be imprisoned for 25 years.

Prosecutors said "there was no indication" that Currie, who once chaired senate's powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, was aware of the theft. Harris did not report the ATM withdrawals on campaign finance reports, prosecutors said, which meant the amounts in Currie's campaign account were "greatly over reported." 

Last year Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat, was indicted on federal bribery and mail fraud charges after an unrelated investigation. He relinquished his chairmanship to focus on his defense in that case, but remains in the senate.   

State prosecutors began probing Currie's campaign account after stories in The Sun showed that he was using his campaign money to pay for his federal defense attorney despite a letter from the Attorney General's office saying such use was prohibited. Currie's private attorneys disagreed, but he is now using a public defender in the federal case.



Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Campaign finance
        

Death penalty repeal effort begins anew

Opponents of capital punishment say they have more co-sponsors than ever on legislation to repeal the state's rarely used death penalty.

The announcement by Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg on Thursday came as the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services acknowledged it needs more time to rewrite the execution protocols — a process that has taken several years so far, creating a de facto moratorium.

Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, submitted the repeal bill Thursday. The strategy this year, he and other supporters said, is to push the legislation through the more repeal-friendly House of Delegates before presenting it to the tougher-to-predict Senate.

But that approach appears likely to hit a wall: Controversial bills typically are vetted first by the Senate, which has the power to filibuster. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who says he has some reservations about capital punishment but does not oppose it, said the Senate is "the appropriate place" for the legislation’s first hearing.

"Considering the Senate had the latest word on the death penalty," he said, "I would want to see whether they have any appetite to take it up again."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a longtime death penalty opponent, made a major push for repeal two years ago. His efforts were halted by senators who instead chose to make the existing capital punishment statute more restrictive.

Death penalty supporters say the state should keep the statute, which they say is now among the most restrictive in the nation.

"We've had a full-court press for repeal for three years now, and it has never succeeded," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

O'Malley is not leading the charge this year, but death penalty opponents said they believe they can get repeal legislation through the General Assembly without him. They say they have found 61 co-sponsors in the House, where 71 votes are needed for passage, and 21 in the Senate, where 24 are needed.

At a news conference Thursday, the death penalty opponents cited continuing obstacles in drafting execution protocols as another reason the state should simply repeal the statute. The latest problem is that one of the chemicals used in lethal injection, sodium thiopental, is no longer available in the United States.

In a letter Thursday, Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard said he is withdrawing the protocols that a panel of lawmakers had been scheduled to review next week. He said his agency will begin to write a new procedure, a process expected to take another six or more months.

But the delays at least partly reflect the political complications of the issue: The protocols are written by public safety officials who report to O'Malley. , a death penalty opponent. They are then reviewed by the legislative panel, headed by two other death penalty opponents.

Maryland's last execution was in December 2005. Five men are on the state's death row.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:44 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 10, 2011

Lawmakers want arsenic removed from chicken feed

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today joined a group of Maryland lawmakers who are pushing to ban arsenic from chicken feed, saying the chemical poses a threat to public health and pollutes the environment.

The arsenic-related compound roxarsone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1944 as a way of preventing chickens from becoming ill. Opponents of the practice say the chemical is used because it makes chicken flesh appear pinker, and therefore more appealing, on the grocery shelves.

"It is hard to imagine who would be on the other side of this issue," Gansler said. "Who is saying: 'I do want arsenic in my chicken?" Gansler said the chemical is not healthy for human consumption and fouls Maryland's waters when poultry waste filters into rivers and streams.

Gansler said he is also lobbying the FDA to revise their opinion of the feed additive.

Del. Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to ban the chemical and called arsenic "the king of poisons." Hucker said: "This is an issue that makes sense to ten out of ten people." Sen. Paul Pinsky is sponsoring the senate version of the bill.

Eastern Shore representatives disagree. Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican from Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's counties, called the bill another assault on the profitable poultry industry.

"We seem to be in a mode where the state policy is to drive these guys out of Maryland," Pipkin said.

He says that industry-funded studies support the FDA's contention that the feed additive is safe. "I guess we will have the battle of the scientists," Pipkin said.

Perdue, which employes thousands on the Eastern Shore, is one of several major chicken producing companies that does not use arsenic in feed, according to bill supporters.

** This post was updated after it was published.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:13 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Same-sex marriage bill picks up new supporter

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin will support legalizing gay marriage if, as expected, his attempt to change the contentious legislation into a civil unions bill fails.

Brochin, a Democrat, said his position changed after listened to a seven hour hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. He said he felt "appalled and disgusted" by the "hate and venom" offered by opponents of the same-sex marriage bill.

"I'm not going to be a part of the vilification of gays on the senate floor," Brochin said. The switch gives supporters 21 votes; the bill needs 24 to pass on the floor. Six senators are either undecided or have not publicly announced their intentions. (See list after the jump.)

Brochin would prefer creating a civil unions statute, but acknowledged he does not have the votes in committee to support that. "I've always thought that everyone should have the same rights," Brochin said.

Mary Ellen Russell, of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said it is "unfortunate" that some opponents make disrespectful comments about gays and lesbians. "They do not speak for the majority of us," Russell said.

The senate committee is expected to vote on the same-sex marriage bill next Thursday, said Chairman Brian Frosh. At that time senators can offer amendments to the legislation. 

Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position/Undecided
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:06 AM | | Comments (31)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Lawmakers weigh education, school board reforms

Sen. Bill Ferguson wants school administrators to be able to fire teachers for "ineffectiveness," one of several education reforms the new Baltimore senator is seeking this year. And at a hearing yesterday, lawmakers heard competing Baltimore County school board bills.

The Sun's Erica L. Green noted in a recent story that Ferguson is "a former teacher who served as special assistant to city schools CEO Andrés Alonso before he was elected" and that his co-sponsored legislation "mirrors recent dialogue in Baltimore."

"The city teachers union said that it's premature for the new legislator to take aim at reforms already under way, particularly as a statewide council is in the process of developing a new evaluative method that will make 50 percent of teacher evaluations based on student performance," Green wrote.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County legislators, as they do nearly every year, are wrestling with the concept of adding elected members to the county's all-appointed school board. Sen. Bobby Zirkin wants elected members, but Sen. Katherine Klausmeier suggests a study -- a plan supported by County Executive Kevin Kamentz.

As The Sun's Raven L. Hill wrote today, this year's school board battle comes at a time when the system is under fire for lack of transparency on contracts. The system awarded a lucrative, multi-year education software contract to a Georgia company with ties to Superintendant Joe A. Hairston -- without seeking competitive bids. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 9, 2011

With ruling, panel to seek new slots bidders for city

A judge has cleared the way for the state slots commission to seek proposals for companies to build and manage the casino approved for Baltimore.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John Phillip Miller ruled that a Canadian developer had no claim on the land off of Russell Street that the city selected as a site for the slots parlor.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group, led by Toronto developer Michael Moldenhauer, had sought $100 million in damages after the city revoked the group’s right to develop the property. The city, which cut ties with Moldenhauer after the state commission rejected his group’s application for a slots license, had asked the judge to end the deal.

Moldenhauer’s group was the only applicant for a the Baltimore slots license.

While Miller did not grant the city's request to dismiss the group’s lawsuit in its entirety, he granted several of the city's motions, and ruled that “the City is, and remains, the only titleholder to the real property.”

The city is “free and clear from any claims by BCEG under its contracts” and “there exists no cloud upon the title of the property,” Miller wrote in his opinion this week.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group characterized the ruling as a victory, because Miller is allowing the case to proceed to the discovery process.

“We are very pleased with this ruling,” Moldenhauer said in a statement. “We are confident that our breach of contract suit as it goes forward will show that the city needs to let us build our project.”

City solicitor George Nilson, meanwhile, said the victory is the city’s.

State slots commission chair Donald Fry said he hoped to issue a new request for proposals for the casino within the next two months.

“This certainly moves us another step forward but there other details we need to work out,” Fry said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall, Law and Courts, Slots
        

Baltimore could lose Senate seat, census data shows

Baltimore's population declined so much relative to the rest of the state in the last decade that the city could lose one of its six senate seats in the upcoming redistricting process, according to a back of the envelope analysis of census data released today.

"We still have a lot to consider," said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, an East Baltimore Democrat. "We are going to look at every possible angle before we concede."

Instead, political clout could shift to places like Frederick or southern Maryland which grew at a faster clip than the rest of the state.

The city contracted by about 30,000 from 2000 to 2010; and now has a population of about 621,000. On balance the state added residents, which will make Baltimore's loses stand out as lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional lines over the next year.

State law requires that Maryland's 47 senators each represent roughly the same number of people. Ten years ago the ideal senate district included 112,691. The new ideal size for each seat is 122,842 -- which would give Baltimore five seats.




The state still needs to adjust the census data released today to include prisoners in order comply with a new state law which requires that incarcerated people be counted at their last known address. 

The state prison population is about 23,000, with about 6 in 10 from Baltimore city. State planners are still trying to determine if they will receive address data for federal prisoners.

Lawmakers will need to readjust the state and congressional districts to reflect the shifts in population. The congressional map will need to be approved in a special legislative session, which is probably going to be scheduled in the fall.  Gov. Martin O'Malley will offer new state senate and house lines on the first day of the 2012 session.

Ten years ago there were ten senators who represented at least some part of Baltimore; half were completely within the city boarders and the rest also represented Baltimore County.

The city lost 84,860 residents between 1990 and 2000 and former Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, attempted to preserve the city's political clout by putting forward a map with eight senate seats: Three were in the city; four were mostly in the city; and one was mostly in Baltimore county with a small portion in the city.

The state's court of appeals objected -- ruling that the districts included too many boarder crossings. The court redrew the map in 2002 with six Baltimore senators. Their districts are completely contained to the city.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:56 PM | | Comments (8)
        

City Inspector General to offer cash rewards

City employees or residents who tip off the inspector general's office to misdeeds will be eligible for cash rewards under a program approved by the city's spending board today.

Tipsters could receive 10 percent of money saved by the city in exchange for providing "substantial information not previously known" by the inspector general's office, comptroller or law department, under the policy.

Inspector General David McClintock said the policy is modeled after a federal program and is intended to spur residents and employees to speak out about government waste.

The five-member Board of Estimates approved $50,000 for the program Wednesday. McClintock said that 10 percent of funds recovered through the program in the future would be deposited in the account.

The spending panel also approved a second measure which would allow contractors to report fraud without fear of prosecution or being barred from future contracts. Contractors who report their own misdeeds, promptly correct them and discipline the employees involved would be eligible for the program.

"We're trying to change the landscape of how the city deals with contractors," McClintock said. "As far as I know, this is the first policy of its type in a major U.S. city."

In her State of the City speech Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that she was increasing the inspector general's budget so an additional investigator could be hired.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

A day later, Baltimore Dem. resigns from tea party

Del. Curt Anderson, leader of the all-Democrat Baltimore delegation, abruptly resigned from the new House tea party caucus this morning, a day after he made news by becoming the vice chairman of the otherwise Republican group.

Fellow city delegates lashed out at Anderson in an emergency delegation meeting this morning, telling him he had "embarrassed" and "hurt" them. Anderson will remain chairman of the delegation, though several colleagues warned they wanted him out in the long run.

Anderson said he was stunned by the reaction -- from constituents and fellow lawmakers alike -- to his short-lived time in the tea party, a caucus he said he joined because of a shared interest with its conservative members in reducing the size of government and avoiding taxes.

"It's almost like I joined the Ku Klux Klan," he said. He said he told tea party chairman Del. Mike Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, this morning that he was resigning. 

Senior members of the delegation said they felt that Anderson was "being naive" about the motives of the tea party caucus. The caucus, they said, cannot be disentangled from the well-funded national tea party movement.

"It is a subset of the Republican party," said Del. Maggie McIntosh. "It's highly organized. We should take them seriously."

Del. Cheryl Glenn called the tea party "the anti-Christ to the Democratic party." She said she could not believe Anderson had wanted to be affiliated with them because, in her view, they are targeting President Barack Obama for defeat in 2012; Anderson campaigned hard for the president's first election.

"You have to be more careful," she told Anderson. "You can't violate the philosophy of the Democratic party."

After about half a dozen delegates had taken a turn chastising Anderson, the delegation meeting adjourned. Anderson said he felt appropriately admonished.

"The president wants us to reach across party lines," he said. "Maybe I reached too far."

  

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:39 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Brochin reconsidering stand on same-sex marriage

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The change adds Brochin to a group of six other senators who have either not decided how they are going to vote or declined to declare their intentions publicly, according to a Sun review. (See list of Senators' positions after the jump.) Twenty senators have said they will support the bill; 24 votes are needed for passage.

Brochin said he would prefer to see Maryland approve civil unions and plans to offer the alternative as an amendment in committee. He acknowledged that he does not have the votes.

The senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday listened to over seven hours of testimony from supporters and opponents of gay marriage.

Because of a reshuffling of committee membership this year, gay marriage supporters for the first time have the votes to bring the issue to the Senate floor.

Proponents in the House of Delegates believe the can find support there for the measure, and Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will sign a bill if it passes.

The issue has ruffled feathers in the Republican caucus. The House GOP recently put out a position against the bill as did the senate. But Sen. Allan Kittleman relinquished his position as Senate Minority Leader last month after saying he would introduce a civil unions bill. He since decided to support same-sex marriage.


Question: Do you intend to vote for or against the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act?

For
Sen. Bill Ferguson, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Rob Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Delores Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nancy King, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard County Republican
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George's County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. James Robey, Howard County Democrat
Sen. Ronald Young, Frederick County Democrat (sponsor)
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat (sponsor)

Against
Sen. Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. David Brinkley, Carroll and Frederick counties Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. James DeGrange, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland Democrat
Sen. George Edwards, Western Maryland Republican
Sen. Joseph Getty, Baltimore and Carroll counties Republican
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford and Cecil counties Republican
Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican
Sen. James Mathias, Eastern Shore Democrat
Sen. Thomas Middleton, Charles County Democrat
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's and Calvert counties Democrat
Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican
Sen. Edward Reilly, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Christopher Shank, Washington County Republican
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Anne Arundel County Republican
Sen. Norman Stone, Baltimore County Democrat

No public position
Sen. John Astle, Anne Arundel County Democrat
Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore and Howard counties Democrat
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Baltimore County Democrat
Sen. James Rosapepe, Prince George's County Democrat

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:19 AM | | Comments (37)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 8, 2011

Baltimore Democrat joins the House tea party

Del. Curt Anderson has joined the Maryland tea party. The Baltimore Democrat, who told The Sun last night that he might run for city council president, said he agrees "100 percent" with the group's approach to holding the line on taxes and reducing the size of government.

The newly formed House of Delegates' tea party caucus, a group led by conservative Del. Mike Smigiel of the Eastern Shore, announced today that it elected Anderson vice chairman. Smigiel said he is "very pleased" to have a Democrat involved in leadership.

Other caucus officials include Del. Justin Ready and Del. Michael McDermott, new Republican House members. Del. Neil Parrott, another Republican newcomer, is drafting the mission statement for the group. Smigiel said other Democrats also have expressed interest in the caucus.

Anderson, a delegate from 1983 to 1995 and since 2003, said in an interview this afternoon that the group's "purely fiscal" focus was what attracted his interest. Smigiel and other House tea partiers said they plan to stay away from potentially divisive social issues altogether.

"Their constituency may be conservative," Anderson said, "but just as mine in Northeast Baltimore, they feel that taxes are already too high."

Anderson said he thinks Baltimore residents agree with the tea party philosophy of reducing the size of government instead of raising taxes. He said he hopes his membership in the tea party caucus will send a signal to his fellow Democrats.

"Those who are in leadership need to know that Marylanders can't afford to pay more taxes," he said. "Maybe if they hear it from the rank and file, that might color the way they consider the budget."

Anderson said he plans to vote against any hike in the gasoline tax. A proposal recently introduced by the Senate majority leader calls for a 10-cent increase. But Anderson said he "probably" would vote for higher alcohol taxes, saying they haven't been raised in decades and "don't affect the scope of people" that the gas tax does.

As for how tea partying could affect a bid for city council president in heavily Democratic Baltimore, Anderson said all candidates for citywide office run on a platform of reducing property taxes.

"The government should be a helpful entity," he said, "not just something that is constantly trying to find new ways to tax citizens."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:20 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Hoyer challenger Lollar to lead tea party group

Charles Lollar, a Marine Corps officer who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer last fall, has been named as director of the Maryland chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

The tea party-affiliated group lost director David Schwartz when new Republican Congressman Andy Harris named him director of communications. In September, Schwartz pegged Maryland's Americans for Prosperity membership at about 23,000. The group, which calls itself a grassroots free-market organization, is legally barred from backing individual candidates.

“Maryland has the potential to be one of the most economically competitive states in the country,” Lollar said in a release. “The Maryland chapter of Americans for Prosperity is ready to work with its members to urge the governor and legislature to rein in wasteful spending and get a hold of the state’s unsustainable budget.”

Lollar, a Republican party activist, has never held public office. He was chairman of the Maryland Taxpayers Commission and has been involved with several business and leadership groups. Hoyer, former majority leader and current minority party whip, defeated Lollar by about 64 percent to 35 percent.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Senate president preparing for gay marriage debate

With supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage flocking to Annapolis for today's Senate committee hearing, the chamber leader said he is preparing for a robust debate among all 47 senators as soon as next week.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller opposes gay marriage and civil unions, but the Southern Maryland Democrat said today that "it's a generational issue." He assessed the legislation's chance of passing the full Senate as better than 50-50.

Miller today renewed his promise to help prevent the legislation from becoming mired in an endless floor debate. If the sponsors can collect their 24 votes, Miller said, he will find the 29 votes needed to cut off a filibuster.  

The bill, which its 18 Senate sponsors call the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, is expected to be approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. That panel will vote in the next few days, after listening to testimony from gay couples, religious leaders and countless other citizens at a lengthy hearing this afternoon.

Equality Maryland brought dozens of members to the State House for a press conference at 11:30 a.m. (Pictured. Credit: Annie Linskey) Many will then squeeze into what is sure to be a crowded Senate committee room for the 1 p.m. hearing.

Notable at the press conference: Sen. Allan Kittleman, the only Republican senator to back same-sex marriage.

The fate of the bill in the full chamber appears to be in the hands of the six senators who have not taken a public position. Only after Senate approval would the House of Delegates begin considering the measure.

Miller said he advised senators who might feel torn about how to vote to "just keep smiling," since the legislation involves families and religion. "You can't question how anybody votes on this issue."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:40 AM | | Comments (53)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Balto. delegate mulling run for City Council prez

Del. Curtis Anderson said Monday night that he may mount a challenge to Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young, who has held the head council position for a year.

Anderson was the top vote getter for his northeast Baltimore seat in November, and would not have to give up his position in the General Assembly to challenge Young. The city primary is in September.

"I'm looking at it to see if I can raise the money," Anderson said after session Monday night. Anderson added that he has a "problem" with Young's vision for the city. Anderson said as Council President he would focus on making teachers feel more appreciated and organizing volunteer opportunities for adults who want to help the city's disadvantaged youth.

The Delegate said he will make a decision by March and would want to be able to match Young's formidable war chest. As of the last campaign finance reporting period Young had $235,000. Anderson has $2,800.

So far much of the chatter about Baltimore's upcoming election has focused on the top of the ticket where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will face former city planner Otis Rolley. Many view the race as competitive because Rawlings-Blake was not elected to her current position, she assumed it after former Mayor Sheila Dixon stepped down last year.

But the City Council President race could also be interesting: Young, an east-Baltimore Democrat, was elected by fellow council members to the Council President job when Rawlings-Blake became mayor. He's never been tested city-wide.


Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:03 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall
        

Senate Democrats showing signs of fracture

In a rare showing of discord among the Senate Democrats, almost half recently signed a letter seeking a more unified approach to policy discussions and leadership selection.

The letter, and a response from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both of which were obtained by The Sun, hint at fractures in the party that controls the Senate by an almost three-to-one ratio.

Some Democratic lawmakers also have expressed misgivings about the Senate majority leader, appointed by Miller, as well as confusion over how their caucus is run. And some appear to be preparing for Miller's eventual departure as their leader.

"We believe a more active and formal Senate Democratic Caucus would promote cooperation and member engagement," the letter from 16 of the Senate's 35 Democrats says.

They wrote that they want to establish clear procedures for electing caucus leaders, better communicate about legislation and hold regular caucus meetings, stating that the House Democrats and Republicans in both chambers "meet regularly to discuss major policy issues and strategies."

Miller, who in January began his 25th year as Senate president, responded with a letter stressing "collegiality" and an "open-door policy." He did not seem pleased with the letter from the group.

"Letters distributed in a petition type of approach can cause immediate divisiveness in the Caucus and often achieve the opposite result of the intended purpose," Miller wrote. "... The signing of a letter on generic stationary to our appointed Caucus Chair without any prior complaint, correspondence or even simple conversation with us is indeed disturbing."

Since the initial letter and response Jan. 26, the Senate Democrats have agreed to meet once every two weeks, though some said that schedule predated the angst. But some senators who signed the letter said in interviews Monday that they hoped more changes would be on the way.

"Mike's not going to be here forever,' said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat. "And we need to have a clear understanding of what happens next. Right now the rules are so loosey-goosey -- it doesn't benefit anyone. We'd have better buy-in if everyone adopts some rules."

Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, declined to comment on why he signed the letter, saying it is "self-explanatory."

One of the chief complaints appears to be that there is no clear procedure for how the majority party chooses a Senate president and other leaders. Miller, who represents Prince George's and Calvert counties, was freshly elected to another four-year term in November and has been president every year since 1987. He's such a fixture that a Senate office building in Annapolis bears his name.

In his response letter, Miller noted that the procedure for selecting Senate leadership is a "long-standing" practice. After the caucus elects the Senate president and president pro tem -- Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore has served in that role since 2007 -- Miller goes on to personally select the majority leader, caucus chair and committee leaders.

This year, he chose Sen. Catherine Pugh of Baltimore as caucus chair and Sen. Robert Garagiola of Montgomery County as majority leader. Some say they'd like the caucus, rather than the president, to fill those positions.

Several senators said they view Garagiola, who toppled an incumbent Republican to win his seat in 2002, as too conservative to represent the majority party. This year, however, Garagiola has introduced more left-leaning legislation such as same-sex marriage and an increase in the minimum wage.

Garagiola said Monday that he viewed the letter signed by 16 of his colleagues as the product of new members and "impatient" veterans. Many of the new members were delegates, and the House Democratic caucus meets weekly. And some of the veteran senators may have forgotten that the first year of the term typically involves fewer caucus meetings, he said, as lawmakers assemble their agendas for the four-year term.

He said he supports the idea that the Senate president can select leaders without the caucus voting. "Whoever the Senate president is, it's good to be able to put your team in place. Any Senate president should have a lot of discretion in that area."

He added that he thought Miller's choice of committee and caucus leaders "is a cross section reflective of the entire body."

As for talk of how to elect the next president, Garagiola said he thought his colleagues were "getting a little ahead of themselves."

Senate Democrats aren't alone. The 12-member Republican caucus also has endured strife this year. Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County resigned his post as minority leader after his support for civil unions led to discomfort among fellow Senate Republicans.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford and Cecil counties eked out a narrow win to succeed Kittleman. Her caucus voted for her over Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 7, 2011

Senators want slots operators to play nice

Irked by what they perceive as Penn National's efforts to prevent the state's largest casino from opening, two senators are seeking legislation to prevent slots license holders from "interfering" with one another.

The legislation, introduced late last week by Democratic Sens. James DeGrange of Anne Arundel County and Edward Kasemeyer of Howard and Baltimore counties, would prohibit any slots licensees from "directly or indirectly interfering with, hindering, obstructing, impeding or taking any action to delay the implementation or establishment of a video lottery facility."

DeGrange was among the lawmakers grumbling about the latest appeal to David Cordish's planned casino at Arundel Mills Mall.

With 4,750 terminals, it is expected to generate more revenue for the state than any of the other four possible sites. Penn National's slots parlor in Perryville and a slots facility at Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore have generated $38.3 million in the few months they've been open, including $10.8 million in January, The Sun's Hanah Cho reported this morning.

But Cordish, who successfully fought off a Maryland Jockey Club-funded attempt to repeal the county's zoning approval of the Arundel Mills site, faces another obstacle. Residents recently filed an appeal saying that Cordish has not provided an adequate traffic plan.

As The Sun's Nicole Fuller reported last week, the residents' attorney, Harry Blumenthal, also is a registered lobbyist for the Jockey Club. The lawyer said the Jockey Club is not involved in the latest appeal.

Penn National, in addition to owning the new casino in Perryville, has a 49 percent stake in the Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park -- a struggling Anne Arundel race track. Penn also recently purchased the shuttered Rosecroft harness racing track in Prince George's County. Neither Laurel nor Rosecroft is approved as a slots location, something Penn officials have said is essential for a healthy track.

Some in the horse industry have expressed skepticism about Penn National's motives in Maryland, Hanah Cho noted in a story this weekend. Penn National owns Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, one of the best-performing "racinos" in the country and just a short drive for many Marylanders.

The DeGrange and Kasemeyer bill spells out that slots licensees may not pay for any actions that could be considered interference with another licensee. A House version of the bill has not yet been filed.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots
        

Rawlings-Blake talks economic development

Julie Scharper reports:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced plans Monday afternoon to restructure the city's economic development agency, increase funding for new technology and create a youth cabinet.

In her second State of the City speech since taking office a little over a year ago, Rawlings-Blake also proposed creating a "Ten Year Plan for Baltimore" to chart out a longterm economic develop strategy.

She vowed to fund core services while grappling with an estimated $80 million shortfall in the city's $1.2 billion budget for the coming year.

She pledged to continue to fund all school-based community health centers and libraries and increase funds for youth workforce initiatives.

Rawlings-Blake laid out plans to create a "Recovery Corps" of 100 former addicts to help counsel those with drug and alcohol problems. She also said she would compile statistics to track domestic violence cases.

Read the text of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's 2011 State of the City address.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:31 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Brother, can you spare a dime? Or two?

Hampden's popular liquor store The Wine Source today became the latest backer of the dime-a-drink increase to the state alcohol taxes.

Store owner David Wells said in a statement that passage of the measure would help him "sleep better at night" because he thinks the tax increase could curb alcohol abuse. He also predicted the higher costs to consumers will not impact his business.

Wells has a personal connection -- he said some of his family members have abused alcohol.
"It is time for our industry to do its fair share to reduce the deaths and societal problems caused by the misuse of our product," Wells said.

He estimates the tax will add 50 cents to a bottle of wine. The backers of the bill believe it will raise $215 million and want that money used to forestall cuts in Medicaid. O'Malley chops $200 million from the low-income health program in next year's budget.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola plans this evening to introduce his own dime-a-gallon hike to the state's 23.5 cent gas tax. The legislation is meant to raise funds for transportation and will include a constitutional amendment that walls off the money so it can't be spent on other projects.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:11 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

O'Malley taps VA's Sam Abed to lead juvenile agency

Maryland's new Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed will meet the press today after touring the city juvenile lockup, one of the state's most problem-plagued facilities. He began work last week, after a recent appointment to the post by Gov. Martin O'Malley, The Sun reported this morning.

Abed will take questions at 11 a.m., but some are already raising them. House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell is among the lawmakers who wonder whether five years as a deputy official in another state -- Abed's resume -- provides enough of a base of knowledge. But other lawmakers, including Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, think Abed will be a breath of fresh air, unafraid to propose new ideas or pose questions. 

This is the second cabinet-level appointment O'Malley has made since winning a new term in November. Last month, he selected the FDA's Joshua Sharfstein, a former Baltimore health administrator, as the new leader of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration
        

February 4, 2011

State buyout numbers are in: 667 will leave

Gov. Martin O'Malley's buyout plan will not save quite as much money as hoped: Just under 700 state workers will leave early, saving the state $30.7 million. The governor's budget assumed 1,000 would leave saving $40 million.

"We had to go to the printer with the budget before we had a chance to decide which we would accept," said O'Malley chief of staff Matthew Gallagher. The budget includes at $120 million cushion, which can be used to absorb the difference, said Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman.

Three agencies took the bulk of the reductions: Maryland Department of Transportation loses 125; the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene loses 124; and the Department of Human Resources loses 105.

The state's public defenders office, which has gone through a leadership overhaul in recent years, will lose 34.

Workers who leave early receive a base $15,000 lump sum plus $200 for every year of service.

The state reported that 1,230 applied for the program. Gallagher said the O'Malley administration worked with the agencies to be sure no single department was depleted.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Administration
        

Will MD's GOP walk the walk on curbing debt?

House minority whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, an Eastern Shore Republican, had some bold words Thursday on Gov. Martin O'Malley's handling of the state's budget.

In responding to Gov. Martin O'Malley's State of the State address noted the state's mounting debt and but also observed that:  "Many legislative members, including myself, have important projects that we would like to have funded."

She then offered to take one on the chin for the sake of fiscal responsibility.

"In light of the economic times we face, our caucus has asked that these projects not be funded," said Haddaway-Riccio, who represents Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico and Talbot counties. 

The only problem: Haddaway-Riccio two weeks ago asked the state to borrow $250,000 for a  project in Talbot County. Her request, H.B. 30, pays for a bulkhead replacement at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Quoting from Haddaway-Riccio's bill: "The Board of Public Works may borrow money and incur indebtedness on behalf of the State of Maryland through a State loan to be known as the Talbot County Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum Bulkhead Replacement Loan of 2011."

The legislation is one of hundreds of so-called "bond bills" that members introduce every year in an attempt to secure funds for "important projects" in their districts. It's a state government equivalent to a federal earmark.

We called Haddaway-Riccio to get her take on how her legislative record squares with her State of the State response. She hasn't called back, but if she does, we'll add her response here.

Haddaway-Riccio said this morning that she introduced the Maritime Museum bill before she had a chance to see the governor's budget. Haddaway-Riccio said she's not withdrawing her bill.



Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:06 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 3, 2011

Urbana chosen for national Social Security center

Federal officials have chosen Frederick County to be the site of the Social Security Administration’s new National Support Center.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett said the project would bring “good paying, technical and professional job opportunities” to his district.

“Frederick County provides a terrific match for the Social Security Administration,” the Western Maryland Republican said Thursday. “Locating this data center in Urbana will improve the quality of life for many employees by reducing their commutes and fuel use by taking traffic off I-70 and I-270.”

Members of the state’s congressional delegation said last year that the facility on Bennett Creek Boulevard in Urbana would bring up to 250 new jobs.

“It’s excellent news,” said Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners. “In a challenging economy, it’s going to put a lot of people to work.”

The General Services Administration, the real estate arm of the federal government, chose Urbana over Woodlawn, where the Social Security Administration is headquartered.

In an internal communication, officials cited “a combination of favorable infrastructure and operating costs, environmental acceptability and favorable construction conditions.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:06 PM | | Comments (5)
        

State of the State videos


Posted by Steve Sullivan at 4:19 PM | | Comments (1)
        

NJ Gov. Christie mocks O'Malley's pension plan

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican darling, had harsh words for Gov. Martin O'Malley's pension plan and approach toward public employees in an interview set to air this evening on FOX Business Network.

The New Jersey governor, who has built a national reputation for standing up to public sector employee unions, distinguished his New Jersey approach from "that pabulum Governor O’Malley was spewing down in Maryland," according to a transcript of the interview.

The comments appear to be retribution for a swing O'Malley took at Christie last week on WTOP radio. O'Malley accused the New Jersey governor of "being abusive towards public employees."

Christie, in the FOX interview challenges O'Malley to "come to New Jersey and listen to what I am saying rather than listening to his democratic consultants."

Christie  says he is "shining a bright light" on the costs of public pensions. "Governor O’Malley calls that picking on public sector workers," Christie says. "I call that telling the people who are paying the bills the truth and not kissing up to every special interest you want to have on your side to get electoral success.".

Despite the heated rhetoric the two men don't appear to be taking radically different approaches to pension reform.

Both are keeping a defined benefit system rather than moving to a 401(k) type plan. Both increase the retirement age for state workers (in O'Malley's case, for workers who are new to the system); both are fiddling with cost of living increases (Christie is eliminating them while O'Malley is tying them to investment performance); and both are making changes to retirement health care.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:05 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Administration
        

O'Malley highlights education, innovation

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Maryland's strides in public education provide the foundation for innovation that will help spur economic recovery, a key point in his State of the State address today in Annapolis.

"The state of our state is stronger than it was two years ago, stronger than it was even a year ago," he said. "But better isn't good enough."

Delivered to the 188 members of the General Assembly and an audience packed with state dignitaries, the speech was sprinkled with quotes from Presidents Obama, Lincoln and Clinton. The Democratic governor repeatedly called President Barack Obama's decisions "courageous" and borrowed his State of the Union theme: "win the future."

Maryland faces a deficit of as much as $1.6 billion, but O'Malley said the economy is showing signs of improvement, pointing to a decrease in home foreclosures and new public-private partnerships such as the Port of Baltimore. He lauded the K-12 school system for its three years at the top of Education Week's list of best districts.

"Innovation is key," he said. "And the foundation of innovation is education."

The governor’s address drew sparse applause, save for one area: holding utility companies accountable. The audience cheered repeatedly as O’Malley announced legislation that would set reliability standards for customers — a hot topic after recent winter storms left thousands of customers in the dark.

"Moms and dads deserve better than to sit for days in freezing homes because the power hasn’t been restored," he said. "Family-owned businesses should not be forced to lose productivity and income because big utilities have failed them."

Republicans said O'Malley's speech was out of sync with his policy choices.

"The governor always gives a great outline of things, but now the reality sets in," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin of the Eastern Shore, the Senate minority whip. He said the governor should be looking for additional education savings and more dramatic pension reform if he truly wants to solve the state's structural deficit.  

In the party's response to O'Malley's address, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio of the Eastern Shore, the House minority whip, said Republicans agree with O'Malley's call to slow government spending and improve the economy.

"With that in mind, we expected a budget that was lean, that curbed spending and that addressed our structural deficit," she said in a speech taped this morning. She said O'Malley's spending plan, which was presented almost two weeks ago and must be approved by the General Assembly, "does not go far enough."

Republicans also questioned a new idea that emerged in O'Malley's address: banning the installation of septic systems in large-scale housing developments. That's already a restriction in Chesapeake Bay critical areas, but the governor asked legislators today to expand the program statewide.

Pipkin and others said that proposal would have a major impact on rural counties. He said there are "real question marks" about how it would work.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

O'Malley to address state lawmakers today

Gov. Martin O'Malley will speak to Maryland's 188 lawmakers and an audience of state dignitaries and citizens at noon today, delivering his fifth State of the State address.

O'Malley, a Democrat elected to his second term in November, spoke at his inaugural event about two weeks ago, and his remarks today are expected to hit many familiar themes, aides say. He called for unity in financially difficult times that have left the state with billion-dollar deficits at the beginning of each year. Campaign slogans "moving Maryland forward" and "one Maryland" also may return today.

The governor will no doubt highlight his legislative priorities, including pension reform, preparations for federal health care reform and Invest Maryland. But he may also set goals for his entire second term.

Del. Jeannie Haddway-Riccio, an Eastern Shore Republican in her first year as House minority whip, will provide the GOP response. Haddaway-Riccio said she would discuss points of agreement between the governor and the minority party but will also note many contrasts in policy choices.

Check The Sun's home page for links to video feeds of both speeches as they are aired. Haddaway-Riccio's is being taped earlier and will air on Maryland Public Televsion and other stations after O'Malley's address.

Last year, the governor hammered on job creation, mentioning the word "jobs" about 30 times. He also infused the speech with lofty lines such as this one: "... A dark thing that has penetrated deep into our collective soul ... that somehow we are destined to decline, backslide and fail."

Republicans reacted with skepticism in their response speech and follow-up interviews.

"There seemed to be a disconnect with sincerity and a disconnect with reality," said Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, the House of Delegates minority leader. "People have struggled mightily over the past three or four years, as he has raised every kind of tax imaginable. And now he wants sympathy and to form some kind of bond with those people?"

Check out the rest of our O'Malley State of the State retrospective. It contains links to each of his addresses.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

Sources: O'Malley to nominate brother for state chair

Annie Linskey reports:

Gov. Martin O’Malley will nominate his younger brother and long-time political advisor Peter O’Malley to lead Maryland’s Democratic Party, according to several top Democrats.

The governor will forward his pick for chairman at a meeting set for March, the sources said, and state Democratic officials will have to vote to approve the nomination. In Maryland, the governor’s nomination has typically been selected as the leader of his party.

A top Democrat said the governor expects Peter O’Malley to build the party as it “prepares for the successful re-elections” of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and President Barack Obama in 2012. The source not authorized to speak about the nomination.

Gov. O’Malley would not comment on the nomination last night.

“We’re working on the State of the State,” he said, referring to the address he is set to deliver to the Maryland General Assembly Thursday. Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman, also would not confirm the move. Peter O’Malley could not be immediately reached.

Most recently Peter, 40, was one of the top aides on his brother’s gubernatorial campaign, a job that included reaching out to other Democratic candidates. O’Malley won the race by more than 14 percentage points.

Peter O’Malley started on his brother’s gubernatorial campaign last April, and made $8,400 a month.

Before that, Peter O’Malley spent three years as chief of staff to popular Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. Smith was term limited and could not run again last year.

In the Smith administration, Peter was viewed as a “talented administrator” with “with outstanding organizational skills,” Don Mohler, a former Smith spokesman who is now chief of staff to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, told The Sun last year.

The job included advising the county executive on political issues, set his schedule and served as the administration's contact with other elected leaders in the area, Mohler said.

Peter cut his teeth in politics managing Martin O’Malley’s 1999 mayoral race. The two brothers look nearly identical, and Peter is known to be bright and personable.

Current Democratic Party chairwoman Susan Turnbull said Wednesday that she will step down at the party’s March meeting in Prince George’s county. “It’s all pretty cool and I’m very fortunate,” Turnbull said of her two years leading the party.

Turnbull said she will focus on several charities, including Jewish Women International, a group that focuses on domestic violence.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:00 AM | | Comments (4)
        

February 2, 2011

State workers approve contract

The largest state employees union have ratified a three-year contract, state and union officials said Wednesday, agreeing to a plan that includes small raises if state revenues begin to climb.

Other details of the deal negotiated between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees include a $750 bonus on July 1, the first day of the 2012 fiscal year, and — in a reprieve after three years of unpaid days off — no furloughs at any time in the contract period.

Employees also will receive five extra paid days off when the state government shuts down to save money.

But employees would pay more for prescription drugs. And, as Republican lawmakers noted, all state workers — even those who do not wish to be represented by the union — now have to pay service fees.

That change comes after a 2009 bill signed by O’Malley. Sen. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican, noted in a recent press release that the service fee can amount to as much as $400 per year for some workers.

AFSCME has 23,000 Maryland members but roughly 6,000 votes were cast. Eighty-nine percent of those who voted approved the contract, said Sue Esty, the union’s assistant director. Voting occurred over a three-week period.

"Our members are very pleased," she said. "It’s particularly good to see such unity among the work force."

She said the ratification came after negotiations that sometimes looked bleak. She said the plan "recognizes the sacrifices people have made over the past three years."

O’Malley said in a statement that the new contract "represents a step forward for our dedicated state employees as we come through this national recession."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:32 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

Education advocates angry, coming to Annapolis

Barely a week after Gov. Martin O'Malley unveiled his 2012 budget, Baltimore education groups have begun rallying against proposed decreases in school aid -- planning bus trips and calling on legislators to overturn the cuts.

As we reported this morning, Baltimore stands to lose about $15 million in state K-12 money, and Prince George's County about $21 million, compared with what they got last year. Other areas would receive more. Baltimore County would be up by about $6 million and Montgomery by about $33 million.

Legislative analysts say some counties would see increases over last year's aid levels because they've lost proportionally more wealth in the housing market collapse while gaining more students. Funding is determined by a per-pupil equation. But Baltimore and all 23 counties would receive less than state education law requires if the legislature approves O'Malley's spending plan.

Baltimore's robust and outspoken education advocate community is already gearing up. Past NAACP Baltimore chapter president Marvin "Doc" Cheatham just sent out a release saying he'd be a bus captain for the planned Feb. 28 education rally in Annapolis.

"Progress is being made in the Baltimore City Public School System, and now is not the time to go in the opposite direction," Cheatham wrote in a statement this afternoon.

The Baltimore Education Coalition, a partnership of more than two dozen schools, religious institutions and other organizations, expects hundreds of supporters to come to Annapolis for the end-of-month rally. Last year, the group brought more than 600 city residents to oppose education funding cuts.

Also planning to make the trip: BUILD. The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, clergy co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, told The Sun's Erica Green yesterday that the public "can stomach" tax increases if it means saving education funding.

"What we can't stomach right now is breaking that promise to our kids," said Connors, pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church.

In years past, O'Malley has been able to preserve education aid by using federal stimulus dollars. That money has dried up. If approved, O'Malley's 2012 budget would lop about $94 million in formula-driven increases, leaving K-12 with about $5.7 billion for the next fiscal year.

The Sun's Liz Bowie also recently noted another education change in O'Malley's budget: He proposed eliminating a required high school American government test. That would trim about $2 million from the state's $14.6 billion operating budget.

Said Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso: "I don't understand it. Why fiddle with something like that? … So what does it signal, that government is suddenly less relevant than the other subjects? Why government and not the other tests?"

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:45 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Tea party caucus forming in House of Delegates

About a dozen Maryland Republican delegates met briefly this morning to discuss the logistics of forming a tea party caucus.

Led by Del. Mike Smigiel of the Eastern Shore, the group decided to meet again Monday to select officers and discuss policy.

Del. Michael McDermott, a newly elected member from the Eastern Shore, said tea partiers traditionally focus on fiscal issues, and that's what he'd like the Maryland caucus to do. 

Smigiel, in his third term, agreed. He said the caucus would "stay away from hot-button issues" and concentrate on spending and the size of government.

Although it appeared everyone at the meeting was Republican, Smigiel said he'd like to see Democrats get involved.

It's unclear if that will happen. When Smigiel announced the tea party meeting at the end of the morning legislative session, Del. Keith Haynes, a Baltimore Democrat, stood to jokingly announce that the "coffee caucus" will not be meeting.

There are three official caucuses in the General Assembly: women legislators, black legislators and veterans. But there are dozens of less formal "caucuses," and the term has come to be used to describe any group of legislators with a common interest -- be it bicycling or the Ravens. Today, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, announced a meeting of the "new Americans caucus."

(pictured: Smigiel talking to tea partiers in the House lounge.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:12 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Kittleman will support gay marriage bill

Former Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman took a stand against his caucus Wednesday morning, saying he will vote for a gay marriage bill and testify for it in committee.

"It was a difficult decision," Kittleman said to reporters after session. "I'll get some heat." He said he made the decision to support the bill even though it could "affect his election" in four years. 

"As a strong proponent of personal and economic liberty/freedom, I simply could not, in good conscience, vote against SB 116," Kittleman wrote in a explanation of his decision. (See full explanation after the jump.)

He noted that he belongs to a conservative church whose members for the most part do not support gay marriage. "While my spiritual life is extremely important to me, it cannot be the sole basis for my decisions as a state senator," he wrote.

The senator will not introduce his civil unions legislation that he had talked about in January. He made the call because the idea was not generating support in the legislature. He said that he still favors civil unions, but does not want to waste the chamber's time with a bill that is a non-starter.

Advocates on both sides of the issue dislike civil unions, though, as Kittleman notes in his statement, a recent poll indicated that more Marylanders prefer civil unions than gay marriage.

Liberal senators immediately embraced Kittleman's decision. "The party of Lincoln lives," declared Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Kittleman ignited a firestorm in January when he initially announced that he'd introduce the civil unions bill. That led to a heated caucus meeting where the senate's 11 other GOP members expressed displeasure with his stance. A week later Kittleman relinquished the leadership position that he's held for two years. 

Since January Kittleman has been coy about his position on the gay marriage bill. Yesterday the Republican caucus took a formal position against gay marriage, but Kittleman dissented. At least eight Republicans supported the caucus position, but the final vote was not reported.


STATEMENT BY SENATOR ALLAN H. KITTLEMAN ON SENATE BILL 116

I want to express my thoughts on SB 116, Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.  As most of you know, I have long supported equal rights for same sex couples.  A few years ago, I voted in favor of allowing same sex couples the right to make medical decisions for each other.

This year, I decided to work on legislation that allowed civil unions for all couples – opposite sex and same sex couples.  My goal was three-fold:

1.     I wanted to ensure that same sex couples had the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in Maryland;

2.    I wanted to remove the government’s intervention in what most Marylanders consider a religious institution (marriage); and

3.    I wanted to develop a consensus on an issue that has been very divisive for many years.

In early January, I announced my proposal for civil unions for all couples.  Somewhat surprisingly, I received much more criticism from people who wanted same sex marriage than those who oppose such marriages.  I actually received quite a lot of messages and emails from Republicans supporting my decision. 

A recent poll performed by Gonzales Research confirmed strong support for civil unions.  The poll found that 62% of Maryland voters support civil unions.  Of that amount, 73% of Democrats, 60% of Independents and 41.5% of Republicans support civil unions.  This figure was higher than the support for same-sex marriage in Maryland.  According to the poll, 51% of Maryland voters support same-sex marriage.  Of that amount, 65% of Democrats, 52.4% of Independents and 24% of Republicans support same-sex marriage.
 
Unfortunately, despite the support by a strong majority of Maryland voters, I did not receive any support from my Republican and Democrat senate colleagues.  In fact, the Republican senate caucus yesterday voted to take a “caucus position” against same-sex marriage.  My Republican colleagues have also made it very clear to me that they would not be supportive of my civil union legislation.  I also did not receive any support from Republicans or Democrats in the House of Delegates.

Based upon the lack of support I have received for my civil union bill, it was evident that my legislation would not receive a favorable report from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.  With the deadline for submitting legislation approaching quickly and with the Committee hearing scheduled to be held on Tuesday, February 8th, I made the decision to forego my efforts to have civil unions for all couples in Maryland.

As I noted above, my primary goal has always been to ensure that same sex couples have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples currently have in Maryland.   I see this issue as a civil rights issue.  I was raised by a gentleman who joined with others in fighting racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s.  Watching him fight for civil rights instilled in me the belief that everyone, regardless of race, sex, national origin or sexual orientation, is entitled to equal rights. 

Consequently, with the civil union legislation no longer being a viable option, I was put in the position of deciding whether to support same-sex marriage or voting to continue the prohibition against same-sex marriage.  As a strong proponent of personal and economic liberty/freedom, I simply could not, in good conscience, vote against SB 116.

I know that some may contend that since the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, Maryland should continue to prohibit same sex marriage.  First, let me state that I am a strong follower of Jesus Christ.  I worked in youth ministries for many years.  However, while my faith may teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, our government is not a theocracy.  As the state senator from District 9, I represent everyone in my district, regardless of their faith.  Therefore, while my spiritual life is extremely important to me, it cannot be the sole basis for my decisions as a state senator.

I know that some will be upset with my decision to support SB 116 and I respect the fact that people have differing opinions on this issue.  I carefully considered my decision.  I sought counsel from many people, including my family, clergy, advocates for both sides, fellow legislators and many others.  These discussions were very helpful to me and I appreciate the time that those individuals took to talk with me.  Ultimately, it was my strong feelings about civil rights that led me to decide to support SB 116.

                         

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:13 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

February 1, 2011

GOP senators: We will not support gay marriage

The Senate's GOP caucus leaders sent out a less-than-resounding resolution opposing gay marriage this afternoon. The caucus -- 11 of the 12 members attended this morning -- voted to oppose the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Protection Act, which allows same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses.

But the level of GOP cohesiveness on the issue is unclear. Official caucus positions must reflect the views of at least eight members, according to a press release announcing the GOP view. "We met that threshold," said Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs.

One member who didn't agree was Sen. Allan Kittleman (pictured on the right.) The Howard County Republican relinquished his leadership post last month in part due to his moderate views on gay marriage.

"I voted that we shouldn't take a position on the bill," Kittleman said. "I don't think it was a good move. ... I think there are a lot of Republicans who would want to extend equal rights to same-sex couples."

Kittleman has said he will introduce a civil unions bill which would provide equal legal rights to same sex couples, but withhold marriage certificates. Advocates on both sides of the issue dislike the idea. Gay rights supporters want full marriage; detractors say that civil unions are merely a way station to full marriage.

And Kittleman has not yet introduced the civil unions bill, causing some  to speculate that he's not going to do it. A Monday deadline is looming to get it in before it would face the additional hurdle of clearing the Senate Rules Committee.

He also hasn't said how he'd vote on full gay marriage.

The gay marriage bill has 18 co-sponsors in the Senate, but needs the blessing of 24 for passage. Twenty-nine votes are needed to cut off Senate debate, though several senators including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have said they'd split their vote: Casting a ballot against gay-marriage but supporting an end to a filibuster.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:10 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Garagiola: Increase gas tax by eight to 10 cents

Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola this morning revealed a few new details about his much anticipated transportation package of legislation.

The bill is still shifting, but it will likely include an eight to 10 cent increase to the gas tax and as much as a 50 percent cross-the-board hike in motor vehicle registration fees, he said. The current gas tax is 23.5 cents.

A key element of Garagiola's bill will be a constitutional amendment that puts the new transportation revenues in a lockbox. The idea is to wall off the funds so future governors can't transfer transportation money to pay for day-to-day state operating costs.

He outlined the idea last week with a group of business leaders who also support higher taxes as long as the money stays in transportation. Gov. Martin O'Malley moved $100 million away from roads and transit this year, and has employed similar maneuvers in the past.  

The constitution can't be changed before November 2012 -- so in the meantime any new money from a gas tax increase would be fair game for  transfers. Garagiola (a chess player) said it's important to think a few years ahead.

His bill also won't specify that funds should go to counties -- but he intends about $100 million to help them. He noted that the sum is deceptively low, because the infusion of cash will also allow the counties to borrow more from Wall Street if they so choose. The counties are receiving $420 million less in road repair money than they did in 2006.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:42 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        
Keep reading
Recent entries
Archives
Categories
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Headlines from The Baltimore Sun
About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Blog updates
Recent updates to baltimoresun.com news blogs
 Subscribe to this feed
Charm City Current
Stay connected