Annapolis whirlwind

April 04, 2006

With less than a week left in this year's General Assembly session, it's the usual crunch time in Annapolis. A 90-day session that began with minimal expectations has turned out to be surprisingly eventful. Increased aid for the state's public universities and Maryland's groundbreaking investment in stem cell research are among the more notable accomplishments. But as often happens, much has been left to the final days.

Top of the list are some bills that have passed but are likely to be vetoed later this week by Mr. Ehrlich - and then face override votes. Naturally, they represent the session's most contentious issues - pending electricity rate increases and the moratorium on the takeover of 11 Baltimore schools. The latter is headed toward a near-certain legislative override. But what happens to Baltimore Gas and Electric's rate increase, Constellation Energy Group's merger with FPL Group and the future of the Public Service Commission is not so obvious. One thing is clear: If rates are not scaled back - and adequate steps not taken to protect ratepayers in the future - Mr. Ehrlich and a lot of incumbent legislators are going to feel voters' wrath.

But there are other, less high-profile matters that also demand attention between now and Monday night. They include:

Pensions. The Senate and House differ on how best to improve pensions for teachers and state employees. The most important unresolved point is retroactivity. The state needs to upgrade pensions to help keep and recruit quality teachers, but it would be a bad precedent to award benefits now for past years of service.

Sexual abuse. A proposal to toughen Maryland's laws regarding sexual predators should be a priority this week. As should a proposal to give the victims of sexual abuse more time to file civil lawsuits against the abusers and those who employ them, legislation that's bogged down in the Senate under opposition from the Catholic Church.

Voting machines. While security problems are a concern, the expensive "solutions" touted by Mr. Ehrlich and lawmakers would make matters worse. This is a classic case of "less is more": Better to pass nothing than any of these alleged reforms.

Healthy air. Legislation passed Friday would do much to clean up emissions from older coal-fired power plants. But Mr. Ehrlich appears ready to veto (and try to take advantage of a technicality to make the veto stick), an unfortunate outcome that would only worsen a spotty environmental record.

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