Balto. Co. delegates reintroduce slots bill

House narrowly passed legislation in '05

viability this year unclear

General Assembly

February 01, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

A group of Baltimore County legislators has reintroduced the slot machine gambling bill that passed last year in the House of Delegates, but others say they don't think the political will exists to resurrect the fragile coalition that supported it.

The proposal, sponsored by Dels. Eric M. Bromwell, James E. Malone Jr. and Steven J. DeBoy Sr., all Democrats, would allow up to 9,500 slot machines along major highways at four locations chosen by competitive bid.

Last year, the legislation passed the House with the barest possible margin. But the pro-slots Senate rejected it as a flawed proposal, and House leaders refused to negotiate a compromise.

Bromwell said he doesn't know if things would turn out differently this year, but he thinks it's worth a try.

"We took the governor's input, the Senate's input and the House's input and crafted a good compromise," he said. "If there is a bill that can be passed, this is the one."

But other legislative leaders said they don't see much chance. A combination of election-year politics; a fat state budget surplus that lessens the need for new revenue; and the fatigue of reviving a divisive debate that has dominated the Assembly for the past three years is dampening the prospects for slots, observers say.

House leaders shepherded the bill through the chamber last year to give Democrats from pro-slots districts a chance to vote on a touchy issue before they stood for re-election and faced questions from voters about why Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s top priority was thwarted. But the passage of the bill did not signal a shift in favor of slots from the chamber's top leaders, particularly House Speaker Michael E. Busch - the Assembly's chief slots critic.

Asked yesterday whether he thinks there's any appetite in the House to take up the issue again, Busch said simply, "No."

Even pro-slots lawmakers were skeptical.

"If we were going to move anything, it would be that bill again, but I don't know that there's the political will," said Del. Sheila E. Hixson, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, which hears gambling bills.

Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee that handles slots legislation, said he's not sure the bill would pass again.

"It's still a house of cards," he said.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the Howard County Democrat who was the floor leader for slots in the Senate last year, said his chamber would consider a House slots bill if one passed. But he said the Senate had concerns about how proceeds were allocated in the House bill.

Ehrlich introduced his own slots bill last month for the fourth year in a row. His version, which is largely the same as the one he introduced last year and which passed the Senate with minor amendments, would allow 15,500 machines at up to six locations.

Ehrlich has said he wants slots in large part to help preserve the state's horse racing industry, and most of the slots licenses in his plan would go to tracks. In the House plan, at most one license would go to a racetrack.

But Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the governor would be happy to see any progress on slots.

"The administration welcomes any progress and good faith - stressing the words `good faith' - negotiations on this issue that would include substantive dialogue between the House and the Senate," she said.

andy.green@baltsun.com

Today in Annapolis

The House of Delegates convenes at 10 a.m. The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. Hearings of interest:

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee considers legislation (SB 154) that would limit emissions of oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide from power plants. The hearing is at 1 p.m.

The House Appropriations Committee is briefed at 11 a.m. in the Legislative Services Building Joint Hearing Room on the proposed sale by the University System of Maryland of the Donaldson Brown property, an estate overlooking the Susquehanna River in Cecil County.

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on a bill (HB 244) that would require paper records to accompany the state's touch-screen electronic voting machines. The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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