Legislature left with big issues still unresolved
Session more than half over
ANNAPOLIS Even the pages are getting caught up in legislative impatience.
The 2010 session has passed the halfway mark, and the Senate has sent only 83 bills to the House of Delegates, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday.
"We need to get these bills over there as quickly as possible," he said.
A few minutes later, Sen. Mike G. Lenett (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring had an amendment to a bill. Per Senate protocol, the pages were to collect copies of the amendments to distribute to the other senators.
Apparently not fast enough.
"Pages, c'mon. Pages, c'mon," Miller said, as if speedy high-school kids racing between the desks of the Senate floor would check off an item on the legislature's hefty to-do list.
The sentiment is similar in the House of Delegates. The official midpoint of the 90-day session was Feb. 26. Del. Virginia Clagett (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis offered the prayer that morning, but not before noting, "We're halfway done with 90 percent of the work left to do."
Lawmakers started the session knowing debate could be more heated as the legislators eyed the November elections. Then the snowstorms hit, wiping out days of committee hearings.
"What happens [is] in many respects the committees go longer, and the voting sessions become somewhat more complex. But I think we're on track for the vast majority [of the] pieces of major legislation," House Speaker Michael E. Busch said.
The 2010 General Assembly began with a gotta-get-it-done-now proposal to change unemployment insurance rates. But the issue stalled until a fragile deal finally was struck this week between the state and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. The bill first faces a preliminary Senate vote today.
The Senate has passed one high priority for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D): a tax credit for businesses that hire new employees from the unemployment rolls. But it awaits action in the House.
Another O'Malley priority is forcing mortgage lenders to mediate with homeowners nearing foreclosure. To support the bill, the governor and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Dist. 7) of Baltimore testified before House and Senate committees. Neither panel has voted out the bill yet.
O'Malley and several other legislators have offered bills written to strengthen sex offender laws in response to the death of Sarah Foxwell, an 11-year-old from Wicomico County, who allegedly was killed by a registered sex offender.
The bills are awaiting votes in the Senate Judicial Proceedings and House Judiciary committees.
The governor also is pushing legislation to make it easier to bring claims against doctors who make false Medicaid claims. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has heard the bill. It awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
Legislation to combat gangs was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana has been heard but awaits votes in the House Judiciary, as well as the Health and Government Operations committees.
Other issues still need to be decided, including what will happen with the death penalty. Last year, the legislature approved a measure that would require photographic or biological evidence before a death sentence. The legislation left open the question of what to do about fingerprints. That bill will be heard March 10 in Judicial Proceedings.
Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach said Thursday that he was dissatisfied with the pace of legislation passing out of the Senate.
"The last two weeks, when things get backed up, the onus falls on me, and rightfully so," he said.
He said he's already worried that Sine Die April 12 will come with meaningful legislation still awaiting passage.
Plus, he knows what's coming up soon: the budget.
"I just know we're going to be at loggerheads over the budget. The budget is going to suck air out of the entire General Assembly," he said.
Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said the House and Senate were talking about what cuts needed to be made in the budget, and the session was pretty much on course.
"It gets contentious here, particularly in an election year. Everybody wants to posture on legislation as they get back and run for office," Busch said.
Every session has its own personality, he said, and this session is marked by the snow and by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's decision last week that the state can recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
But to Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative and a veteran of a number of legislative battles over the years, the timing is no different than any other session.
"Anything I've ever worked on has always been during the last month," DeMarco said. "So I think they're right on schedule."
Staff Writer Sean R. Sedam
contributed to this report.