Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

March 29, 2006

`Fat' report cards don't make grade

The "fat" report cards won't be coming - at least not this year.

Like a good liposuction, Maryland lawmakers have exacted every last contentious bit from bills that would have required public schools to screen pupils for signs of heaviness and then send the results home to parents in a "health report card."

The changes to the legislation came after objections rolled in from the state's major medical and psychiatry organizations as well as school and parents groups.

Though the bill's sponsors were hoping to curb childhood obesity, the opposition worried the screenings and report cards would make kids feel bad about themselves.

Now the bills - one of which received preliminary approval from the Senate yesterday - would merely form a task force to examine ways to fight childhood obesity.

It would also require schools to keep food vending machines turned off during school hours.

Jill Rosen

Money OK'd for new schools

The General Assembly approved $690 million in funding for capital projects yesterday, including more than $300 million for school construction plus money for universities, hospitals and local projects.

By cutting from other parts of the budget, notably construction projects in the state prison system, legislators managed to make the largest allocation for school construction since the state began sharing those costs with local districts more than 30 years ago.

"Every county and Baltimore City made school construction their No. 1 priority," House Speaker Michael E. Busch said. "For the last two years we responded, with record funding for schools across the state. Whether you're a rural county or suburban or the city schools, you did extremely well."

Baltimore will receive nearly $40 million for school construction in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Baltimore County will receive $35 million; Anne Arundel, $23 million; Howard, $18 million; Harford, $11 million; and Carroll, $8 million.

Legislators have more control over capital spending than they do over other areas of the budget, and they used it to rearrange some of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s priorities.

After years of losing out to the University of Maryland, College Park, Salisbury and Towson universities got the majority of capital funds in Ehrlich's proposal. Those campuses, which are projected to absorb most of the university system's enrollment increases, received more than $50 million each for new academic buildings and other projects.

The legislature preserved those funds, but by cutting elsewhere they also found more money for the state's flagship campus, which will now receive more than $10 million for new buildings and equipment.

The Johns Hopkins University was also a winner in the legislature's amendments to the capital budget. Lawmakers increased by $15 million funding for two new buildings at Hopkins' East Baltimore medical campus.

Andrew A. Green

Regents panel looking at Mandel

Former Gov. Marvin Mandel is under investigation for possible improper lobbying activity by a committee of the University System of Maryland's board of regents, of which he is a member.

Mandel has been at the center of liquor wholesalers' efforts to derail a bill giving small wineries the ability to sell directly to restaurants and retailers, The Sun reported this month. Despite a ban on lobbying by regents in the University System's ethics code, Mandel testified against the legislation in a Senate committee, and met with and wrote a letter to key lawmakers in opposition to the measure.

Mandel, who is not registered to lobby for the wholesalers, denied wrongdoing, saying he was simply representing a client of his law practice.

Michael Gill, chairman of the regents' Audit Committee, said in a statement this week that he has asked a three-member panel of regents to review Mandel's conduct. The same panel is also investigating allegations of possible ethics violations by regents Chairman David H. Nevins, who attended meetings between his employers at Constellation Energy and top lawmakers at which the company's pending merger to a Florida utility was discussed.

"We take all allegations regarding possible violations of the board's ethics policy very seriously," Gill said in the statement. "We are determined to operate fully within the expectations of the board's ethics policy and the state's ethics law."

The wineries bill Mandel was working to stop passed the Senate yesterday, 47-0.

Andrew A. Green

Marriage amendment dies

An attempt to revive a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage failed in the Maryland Senate yesterday, apparently leaving no further options this year for opponents of gay marriage.

With a proposal to amend the state constitution languishing in committee and only two weeks left in the General Assembly session, Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and the chamber's minority leader, resorted to a rarely used parliamentary move to try to bring the amendment out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He submitted a petition asking the Senate to bypass the committee and put the amendment on the agenda for debate.

But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the judicial committee, immediately responded with another unusual move, making a motion to table the Stoltzfus petition indefinitely.

The Frosh motion was approved on a 26-21 vote, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller ruled that the amendment can not be brought up again this session. Seven Democrats joined all 14 Republicans in an unsuccessful attempt to revive the amendment. A similar measure has been defeated by the House of Delegates.

Associated Press

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