Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 28, 2007

PSC chief to hold hearing on BGE rate

The newly named chairman of the Public Service Commission announced yesterday that he would hold hearings on BGE'S proposed 50 percent rate increase to ensure that it is justified.

Steven B. Larsen, Gov. Martin O'Malley's nominee for PSC chairman, said the hearings will begin next week, after he and fellow O'Malley appointee Susanne Brogan join the commission. While O'Malley was mayor of Baltimore and a candidate for governor last year, the city successfully sued the PSC for failing to hold a proper hearing on a proposed 72 percent BGE rate increase last year.

Larsen said in a statement yesterday that the commission would investigate the reasons for the increase, seek to ensure that BGE is asking for a reasonable return and hear testimony on any possible rate mitigation proposals.

"The courts and the General Assembly have both made clear the requirement and expectation that the commission must ensure, through hearings, that rate increases shall be based on a price that is based on verifiable, prudently incurred costs, plus a reasonable rate of return," Larsen said in the statement. "We need to ensure that this standard is being satisfied."

Andrew A. Green

Panel considers ban on trans fat

State legislators took up a bill yesterday that would ban the use of most artificial trans fat in restaurant cooking, drawing lobbyists from the restaurant and grocery industries to a hearing to protest the proposal.

The legislation, debated by the House Health and Government Operations Committee, is aimed at reducing the use of unhealthy fats such as margarine, shortening or any kind of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils when preparing food.

Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat who introduced the bill, said he is still gauging the level of support in the General Assembly. But he was upbeat about its prospects.

"If Krispy Kreme can do it, we can, too," Hubbard said.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts recently pledged to work to develop a zero trans fat doughnut and has introduced a whole wheat doughnut, which has 180 calories compared with 200 calories found in its signature glazed doughnut.

Laura Smitherman

Scholarship deadline extended

Because of a shortage of applicants, the state has extended the deadline for a new college scholarship program aimed at military veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, officials said yesterday.

The original deadline was March 1 for the academic year beginning in September.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission will now take applications until the $500,000 budgeted this year is awarded, but applicants still must have filed by tomorrow - March 1 - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

As of yesterday, the commission had received about 50 applications, many of them incomplete, said commission spokeswoman Helen Szablya. She said the deadline was extended in part to give the commission time to collect additional information from current applicants.

The scholarship is designed to cover 50 percent of annual tuition, fees and living expenses at a typical Maryland four-year public college, with a maximum award of $8,850 per academic year. The money can be used at most public and private colleges in Maryland, including community colleges.

Veterans of the U.S. armed forces or Maryland National Guard who have served for at least 60 days in Afghanistan since 2001 or in Iraq since 2003 are eligible, officials said. Though veterans have priority, their immediate relatives also can apply.

Applications are available online at www.mhec.state.md.us/financialaid.

Gadi Dechter

Senate OKs sexual evidence bill

The Maryland Senate narrowly approved a measure yesterday that would enable judges to allow evidence of past sexual misconduct against a minor at the trial of a defendant accused of sexually abusing a minor.

The bill sparked considerable debate and was passed 27-20. It would allow a judge to admit evidence of past sexual misconduct against a minor, if it could be proven in a clear and convincing manner at a trial involving another minor.

The measure would require the court to hold a closed hearing to determine if the evidence is admissible.

"It gives judges the discretion they need to admit the evidence when it's persuasive and when it really happened and it's something we need to do to protect victims," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

But some senators who have supported the bill in the past said they have changed their minds about it.

The bill passed in the Senate last year, 46-6.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, voted for the measure last year and decided to vote against it this time. He said the measure troubled him because it "could lead to a scenario not that far down the road where someone who's innocent gets convicted."

The bill has failed in the House of Delegates in recent years, but Sen. James Brochin, a sponsor, said he wanted to try again because the last election brought in new members.

"Whenever you have a turnover of legislators, I think you have to go back and give it another shot to see how that dynamic has changed," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

Associated Press

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