Physical education plan in schools dies

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

March 10, 2007

A bill that would have increased physical education class time in elementary schools to 150 minutes a week died in a House of Delegates committee yesterday.

The bill, sponsored by Baltimore County Sen. Jon S. Cardin, would have brought Maryland schools in line with national guidelines that say students ages 5 to 12 should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity and education a day. Most Maryland schools now offer 60 to 90 minutes of physical education a week.

The bill received support from only two members of the House Ways and Means Committee -- Cardin, a Democrat, and Del. Jay Walker, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Cardin could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

The bill faced an uphill battle. School districts across the state lobbied heavily against it, saying they lacked the space to hold more physical education classes. Many school system officials complained they already squeeze the classes into school cafeterias and other multipurpose rooms. They also said the bill was an unfunded mandate that would have forced them to spend about $48 million over the next four years to hire more teachers.

Ruma Kumar

Anne Arundel compromise

The five-member Anne Arundel County Senate delegation narrowly endorsed a bill yesterday that would change the way local school board members are tapped -- a move that local delegations have wrestled with for nearly 20 years.

The legislation that passed the delegation was a compromise bill that would give voters the chance to recall unpopular school board members, but still allows the governor to select school board members from a nomination list, or ignore it entirely and designate his own appointees. The bill was introduced by Sen. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat, at the request of County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican.

"I am pleased that the Senate has acted favorably on this issue that has been an intractable issue for nearly two decades," Leopold said.

The delegation passed the bill, 3-2, with a key swing vote from Democratic Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. of Glen Burnie. DeGrange had said he was tired of waiting for action on the issue. Republican Sens. Bryan W. Simonaire and Janet Greenip voted against the measure; they favored an elected school board.

The bill is up for a vote next in the Senate Education, Health and Environment committee, which is expected to debate the bill within a week.

Leopold said he expects the measure would clear the House, where there has traditionally been more support for changing the selection process.

"The citizens for the first time will have a voice ... which will spur the new commission members and the governor to be diligent and deliberate in their selections, knowing that the public will have an opportunity to pass judgment on their selections," Leopold said.

Ruma Kumar

Bills would slash emissions

So far this year, Maryland's legislature has voted to tighten car emissions standards and clean up power plants, but lawmakers might not be done trying to combat global warming.

Two bills under debate would give Maryland a 13-year window to dramatically reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases -- an idea that has regulators' support even as they warn that its cost could be steep.

The measures would require that Maryland's total carbon emissions would be the same by 2020 as they were in 1990. Last year, lawmakers voted to join a regional greenhouse gas initiative putting similar caps on carbon dioxide emissions, but that bill applied only to coal-fired power plants.

This year, lawmakers are looking at all carbon emissions. To meet the 2020 goal, drastic changes such as energy-efficient appliances or different car batteries could be required of Maryland residents.

The requirement "can only be characterized, in my opinion, as a serious and bold solution to a very grave problem," said Del. Kumar P. Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored one of the bills and argued for its passage yesterday before two House committees.

Barve pointed out Maryland's vulnerability to flooding and rising ocean levels, and said he wouldn't debate whether global warming is occurring.

"For us to ignore this problem would be very difficult for us to explain to future generations," he said.

Barve said that only California has gone as far as his bill to cap carbon emissions, although several other states have taken some steps or are considering California's rules.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's Department of the Environment has commended the carbon idea, but in written testimony to senators, Secretary Shari Wilson wrote, "It is also important to note that this bill carries a heavy price tag."

The bill would require a new Office of Climate Change, which Wilson estimated would cost $1.6 million.

Opponents at the hearing have said the cost could be much higher than just setting up a new office.

"We think that Maryland has shown a good deal of leadership already," said Bill Cunningham, president of the group Unions for Jobs & the Environment, which includes steel workers and miners. Republican Del. Richard A. Sossi wondered what difference it would make if Maryland adopted the cap.

"If the state of Maryland were to shut down tomorrow -- no power, no lights, no nothing, we just all drive around on horse carts or something -- how much will global warming decrease?" Sossi asked.

Associated Press

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