General Assembly highlights

April 10, 2001

Here are highlights of the 2001 Maryland General Assembly session, which ended shortly before midnight. Bills approved by the legislature need the governor's signature to become law.

Baltimore: Mayor Martin O'Malley went to Annapolis seeking lots for his city, and he came away with much of what he wanted. An extra $8 million for drug treatment will add 1,500 slots to the 7,000 now available. The governor's supplemental budget had $7 million for city revitalization projects, such as West Side redevelopment. Another $1 million will go toward demolishing the long-vacant Strathdale Manor apartments.

Civil rights: It didn't look good for the governor's gay rights bill when the session opened. But Prince George's Sen. Leo E. Green opted for the bill, enabling it to clear a committee hurdle and go on to passage. The governor also won approval for a bill requiring police departments to adopt policies prohibiting race-based traffic stops.

Crime: A moratorium on state executions got strong support in the House of Delegates, but failed in the Senate last night. For the fourth time, a bill to guarantee poor people a lawyer at bail hearings died in the House Judiciary Committee. The same panel rejected a measure to limit judges' ability to reduce criminal sentences.

Education: Schools and universities were big budget winners. Local school systems will get $274 million for construction and renovations next year, as well as 8 percent more in operating aid. The University System of Maryland won a 9.9 percent budget boost. Legislators approved a controversial plan to spend $5 million on textbooks for private and parochial schools. A bill to make Maryland the first state to require gun-safety education was approved yesterday.

Ethics: Legislation to subject the State House lobbying corps to greater government scrutiny was approved yesterday. But a bill to require lawmakers to promptly disclose political contributions made on the eve of the General Assembly session died in a Senate committee.

Environment: The Assembly gave the governor an Office of Smart Growth and $35 million to begin a GreenPrint program to preserve almost 13,000 environmentally sensitive acres. A proposal to curtail crab catches by licensing and limiting recreational crabbers was approved last night.

Health: Frustrated by congressional inaction, the Assembly approved a plan to offer prescription drug coverage to more than 30,000 low-income senior citizens. But the House speaker's bill to provide government insurance to the working poor died for lack of funding. Legislation to exempt mothers from prosecution if they abandon a newborn in a "haven" such as a hospital also failed.

Minority business: At a time when other states are backing away from affirmative action programs, the Assembly approved the governor's bill to increase from 14 percent to 25 percent the amount of state business earmarked for firms owned by women and minorities. The figure is a goal, not a quota.

Motorists: Threatened with losing federal highway funds, the Assembly passed a bill that, in effect, lowers the standard at which a driver is considered drunk. The House killed a plan to require car booster seats for children ages 4 to 8. The $70 fee that Marylanders pay every two years to register their cars was increased to $76 to fund emergency services.

State workers: State workers will receive 4 percent cost-of-living raises, which were negotiated in January 2000. With a strong push from the governor, the Assembly extended collective bargaining rights to about 10,000 workers at Maryland's public colleges and universities.

Etc.: A group of schoolgirls from Westernport captured the hearts of legislators during their successful quest to have the calico named the state cat. A request by Marylanders of Armenian descent for a day of remembrance for thousands killed was approved yesterday. A proposal to ban the use of cell phones while driving was defeated, as was a bill to replace "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state song.

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