Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

April 05, 2006

House approves bill on candidate funds

A plan to provide public funding for General Assembly candidates who agree to limit private fundraising activities, beginning with the 2010 elections, passed the House of Delegates yesterday.

A similar bill was awaiting a vote in a Senate committee, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he did not think the legislation would pass his chamber.

"I think it'll narrowly go down to defeat in the Maryland Senate," Miller said.

Maryland once had a public financing law but the legislature repealed it after it was used only once, by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey in her loss to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1994.

The new proposal would cover the races for the 47 state Senate seats and 141 members of the House of Delegates at an estimated cost of $7.5 million a year. To be eligible, candidates would have to raise seed money in small donations from contributors in their districts. They would have to agree to limit spending to a maximum of $100,000 for the primary and general elections for Senate and $80,000 for the House of Delegates.

Candidates would be allowed to spend twice that amount if their opponents avoided spending limits by financing their own campaigns.

The bill was approved on a 79-56 vote in the House, eight votes more than the number required for passage.

Supporters said the bill would help restore public confidence in elected officials by reducing the role that big contributors play in electoral politics. Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat and the chief sponsor of the measure, noted a University of Maryland poll in which 75 percent of respondents said they believe fundraising is a major source of corruption in government.

But opponents said big donors would continue to play a roll by diverting money to political parties and organizations that spend money independently of candidates.

"This doesn't take any special interest money out of the game," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader from Southern Maryland.

From staff and wire reports

Veto urged for stem cell bill

Mid-Atlantic Catholic leaders are urging Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to veto the stem cell research bill passed by the General Assembly last week, and which he subsequently promised to sign.

A letter sent yesterday by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del., expressed regret that "tax dollars will be used to pay for the destruction of innocent human life."

"Human life is not to be treated as a commodity, as a raw material in science experiments," the three church leaders wrote. "Taking innocent human life is always a great evil, regardless of whether society as a whole stands to benefit."

Religious conservatives liken embryonic stem cell research, which uses cells from human embryos, to abortion because the embryo is destroyed in the process.

The Maryland legislation sanctions the use of state dollars for such research but would allow money to be used for research on adult stem cells as well. The General Assembly has secured $15 million in next year's budget for research.

Ehrlich could sign the bill as early as tomorrow.

Jennifer Skalka

Shore broadband accord near

In a welcome sign for rural Marylanders with slow Internet service, state lawmakers neared agreement yesterday on a $10 million plan to bring high-speed broadband service to the Eastern Shore.

The plan passed the Senate 47-0 on Tuesday and has already passed the House, though the two chambers still have to work out minor differences.

The measure calls for a three-year plan to speed the development of high-speed Internet across the Shore, with future expansion possible in Western Maryland and other areas with spotty broadband access.

Broadband, or high-speed Internet, is a connection with speeds of more than 200 kilobytes per second.

Sponsors say the money will help rural businesses who now have to choose between dial-up service or building a link for broadband access at 10 times the cost.

"It's hard to bring industry and such - we don't have the infrastructure," said Republican Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., who can get only dial-up service at his home in Chesapeake City in Cecil County.

Associated Press

Bill approved to aid farmers

After promising for months that farmers would get a boost in the legislature this year, lawmakers have approved bills authorizing more money to help them stay in business and adopt environment-friendly practices.

The Senate gave unanimous approval yesterday to a bill authorizing millions for farmer assistance, such as more money for winter cover crops and more soil conservation officers. The House has passed a similar bill, and differences in the two versions are slight.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he supports more help for agriculture.

"It'll certainly help not every farmer, but it'll help a lot a farmers remain in agriculture," said Earl Hance, who grows soybeans and grain in Calvert County and is president of the Maryland Farm Bureau.

The bills came out of months of work by farmers, lawmakers and environmental groups, who agreed that preserving agriculture is a key component in taming growth.

Maryland farmers said they wanted to do a better job reducing nitrogen and other pollutants that run into the Chesapeake Bay, but they needed more money from the government to afford cleaner methods.

The Senate bill includes $4 million next year for a state agency that works on economic development for farms. Other key provisions include up to $5 million a year to preserve farmland and subsidize land for young farmers who can't afford to buy it; more money from septic-tank taxes to pay farmers to plant winter cover crops, which lessen harmful runoff into the bay; and at least $750,000 a year for manure transport.

Associated Press

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