Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 09, 2007

Delegate would add raven as a state bird

For the past 60 years, the Baltimore Oriole has been Maryland's sole state bird.

Quoth a Baltimore delegate, "Nevermore."

Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks introduced a bill yesterday that would make the raven the second state bird of Maryland.

Oaks, a Democrat who also introduced the measure in 2001 and 2003, said that it makes sense for Maryland to recognize both of its avian mascots. Elementary school children from Edmondson Village first proposed the idea to him few years ago after he told them how bills are made into law, Oaks said.

"They said, `We've got the football team, why don't we think of them the same way we think of the baseball team?'" Oaks said. "I said, `What should I do?' And they said, `Why don't you put a bill in?'"

Adding a second state symbol wouldn't be unprecedented, Oaks said. In 2004, Maryland adopted lacrosse as its second state sport, distinguishing it as the state's official "team" sport. Previously, jousting had been the only state sport.

"We vote for it," said Kevin Byrne, a spokesman for the Ravens football team, of the proposed second state bird. "There's room enough in this state for two birds, just like two stadiums at Camden Yards."

Justin Fenton

Ground rent bill clears hurdles

An emergency bill to ban new residential ground rents cleared two hurdles yesterday by winning the support of a committee in each chamber.

The legislation unanimously passed the Environmental Matters Committee in the House and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

As drafted, the bill would be retroactive to Jan. 22. Because the legislation is framed as an emergency measure, it would take effect immediately upon being signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"We don't do this too often," Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the Environmental Matters Committee, said yesterday. "We do it sparingly."

The bill now must go to a full vote in each chamber.

This bill and others introduced last week come in response to an investigative series in The Sun in December that documented how a few of the largest ground rent owners in Baltimore have used arcane state laws to seize homes or charge homeowners thousands of dollars in fees over delinquent bills as small as $24.

An estimated 80,000 Baltimore homes are subject to ground rent, typically for $100 or less per year.

In coming weeks, lawmakers will vote on a bill that would scrap the Circuit Court process known as ejectment, in which ground rent owners sue to seize property from homeowners who fail to pay their rent.

Ground rent owners could place a lien on the home of anyone who fails to pay them but would not be allowed to seize the property. Homeowners would be liable for the lien amount as well as interest and attorney's fees of no more than $500.

Additional bills would require ground rent owners to register holdings online so that property owners could easily track them down, and would expand options for buying out ground leases.

June Arney and Fred Schulte

Black caucus likes health plan

The Legislative Black Caucus gave House Speaker Michael E. Busch an endorsement yesterday morning on his proposal to extend medical coverage to nearly 250,000 uninsured residents, which would be funded through a doubling of the state's cigarette tax to $2 a pack.

Lawmakers sought to pitch their legislative agenda yesterday in a meeting with Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Busch and Miller, however, spent the majority of the meeting lobbying for some of their top issues - health care and new revenue streams, respectively.

"Given that the African-American community is the most disadvantaged economically in the state, the vast majority of those people who get coverage would be a large number of African- Americans," Busch told the group about his proposal. The caucus is made up of black members of both the House and Senate.

"Is the black caucus on board?" Busch asked after he was finished, to which members of the caucus answered, "Yes."

Justin Fenton

Riverboats offered as slots venue

Hoping to throw a new wrinkle into the debate over slot machines, Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier is proposing riverboat gambling.

Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat and slots supporter, said she wants to eliminate one rationale lawmakers offer for voting against gambling - the fear that it will hurt the surrounding community. Putting gambling on a boat in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay means there will be no surrounding community to hurt, she said.

"In the past few years when slots bills have come before us and failed, a lot of people consider it was political," Klausmeier said. "Yes, politics was involved, but also geography. There was a lot of not-in-my-backyard NIMBY-ism involved."

Klausmeier's bill would allow up to 15,500 slots, divvied among as many as 16 boats. The proceeds would be divided among the jurisdictions where the boats dock and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. Klausmeier said she would also support dedicating some money to purse subsidies for horse tracks.

Klausmeier has also reintroduced a measure to allow slots at American Legion halls and other charitable venues. Similar bills have failed in the past.

Andrew A. Green

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