Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

March 27, 2007

Bill cracks down on political literature

The Maryland House approved a bill yesterday that aims to tackle the dissemination of misleading campaign literature.

Sponsored by Baltimore Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, the proposal would forbid the distribution of material known to be untrue "with the intent to influence a voter or to prevent the voter from exercising the right to vote in an election."

The final House vote was 133 to 1.

Rosenberg's bill was filed in response to the fliers that were circulated on Election Day 2006, targeting Maryland's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests. The full-color brochures, which were sponsored by the campaigns of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, listed the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate as the top choices on a "Democratic sample ballot."

Steele was defeated by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in the Senate race. Ehrlich fell to then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Jennifer Skalka

Senate passes health care bill

The Maryland Senate passed a health care bill yesterday that allows families to buy into Med- icaid at cost, but falls far short of a more expansive measure approved by the House of Delegates.

The Senate voted 42-4 on a bill under which families that earn more than three times the poverty level can pay about $170 a month to obtain coverage for their children under Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. It also would allow children of state employees to remain on their parent's health plan until age 25, up from the current age of 19. It would require private insurers to offer the same option.

Efforts to reduce the number of uninsured in the state -- nearly 800,000 residents -- has been a major theme of this year's General Assembly session, but has run into trouble over funding.

The House bill approved this month would extend medical coverage to more than 100,000 residents, mostly by expanding eligibility for Medicaid. The measure, which would cost about $200 million in state funds a year, faces strong opposition in the Senate, where legislative leaders oppose its principal funding source, a $1 increase in the tobacco tax.

In contrast, the Senate measure would cost about $3.5 million.

Laura Smitherman

Bill would freeze state tuition

The House of Delegates passed a bill yesterday freezing tuition at University System of Maryland campuses, despite protests from Republicans who called the measure too costly.

The bill, a top priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley, passed 126-11. A similar bill passed the Senate last week, 38-9.

Del. Steve Schuh, an Anne Arundel County Republican who voted against the bill, said the cost of college is small compared to the lifetime financial benefits that graduates receive.

But Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House majority leader from Montgomery County, said a better-educated populace benefits all.

Andrew A. Green

Bill would ease parole rules

Second-time drug offenders would be eligible for parole under a bill passed by the House of Delegates yesterday.

The measure failed last week, but its sponsor, Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, moved for reconsideration, a rarely used procedural move. It passed 71-66, the bare majority necessary.

Proponents said the bill would allow nonviolent offenders to get out of prison and into treatment.

"The parole board is not going to let kingpins out," said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat.

But opponents said allowing drug dealers out early will encourage crime. Communities want drug dealers behind bars, said Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke, an Anne Arundel Republican.

Andrew A. Green

In-state tuition for immigrants

Children of illegal immigrants would be eligible for in-state tuition in Maryland under a bill passed by the House of Delegates last night.

The measure, which proponents say could help about 300 students a year, passed 81-57. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

"You're giving these students an opportunity to fulfill their dreams," said Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Opponents said the bill would encourage illegal immigration into Maryland at the expense of law-abiding citizens.

But supporters of the measure said denying immigrants' children the opportunity for higher education would make them second-class residents of the state.

Andrew A. Green

Ex-felon voting rights bill passes

The General Assembly approved a bill granting voting rights to ex-felons yesterday.

The House of Delegates approved the measure, which had already passed the Senate, 78-60. It now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk for his signature or veto.

Under current law, those convicted of multiple nonviolent offenses must wait three years after serving their sentences to have their voting rights restored. Those with two or more violent offenses are barred from voting forever.

Under the new law, those who have completed their sentences -- including probation and parole -- would be eligible to vote, except for those convicted of election fraud. Maryland joins 38 other states with similar laws.

Republicans attempted unsuccessfully to amend the bill to exclude those convicted of violent crimes, rape or other sex crimes, or treason.

Andrew A. Green

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