Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

March 28, 2007

Permit ban OK'd for teens who skip school

Teens who skip school could be denied learner's permits under legislation passed by the state Senate yesterday.

The House of Delegates has passed a similar measure, but differences between the bills must be reconciled for the measure to become law. The Senate bill would prevent a student from receiving a learner's permit if he or she had more than 10 unexcused absences in the previous school semester.

"I tell you, once the word gets out, there's going to be less truancy in our high schools," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The Senate bill passed 38-9, with some opponents saying they feared unintended consequences.

"Our teenagers are going to turn 16, be denied a driver's license and drop out of school," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican who voted against the bill.

Andrew A. Green

Sudan divestment approved

Seeking to force an end to the bloodshed in Sudan, the Maryland Senate approved legislation yesterday authorizing the divestment of state funds from companies doing business in the African nation.

The bill would require the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System to pressure companies to sever ties with Sudan and would prohibit new investments in companies that have operations in Sudan or a financial relationship with its government. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, following passage of a similar bill in the House of Delegates last week.

Laura Smitherman

O'Malley seeks fund increase

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued his third supplemental budget of the year yesterday, asking for $71 million more in spending on port security, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, volunteer fire companies and higher Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

The spending plan assumes that the General Assembly will cut $65 million from O'Malley's original budget. It also takes advantage of new federal funds and ties spending for the nursing home reimbursements to legislative approval of a new fee the governor is advocating.

The zoo, where financial problems recently scuttled a plan to bring three elephants from Philadelphia this summer, would receive an additional $1.9 million from the state during the fiscal year that begins July 1. O'Malley had already budgeted $3.1 million for the zoo in his spending plan for next year.

The Maryland State Firemen's Association would receive $2.1 million to make loans and grants to volunteer fire companies. The Department of Natural Resources would get an extra $4.8 million, most of it federal funds, to provide extra security at the port of Baltimore.

O'Malley is also calling for an extra $644,000 to hire three new engineers for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collaborative effort between states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Members of the Public Service Commission, four of whom were sworn in yesterday, would get raises under the supplemental budget. The chairman's salary, previously $117,000 a year, would be increased by $66,720. The four other commissioners, who made just under $100,000, would get an extra $24,000 each.

Andrew A. Green

Primary move wins backing

Seeking to give Maryland more influence in the selection of presidential candidates, the state Senate approved a bill yesterday that would move the state's primary earlier in the election calendar.

Under the proposal, which is a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Maryland would join Virginia and Washington in a Feb. 12 Mid-Atlantic primary. A companion measure passed the House of Delegates last week.

"With this change, the road to the White House must run through Maryland for the first time in a long time," state Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said in a statement.

Andrew A. Green

Electoral change gains

The state Senate gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would award Maryland's electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote.

The change is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2000 election, in which Republican George W. Bush won enough key "swing states" to win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.

Electors, not voters, select the president weeks after the election in a meeting of the Electoral College. Voters in most states choose their electors, who often do not appear on ballots, on a winner-take-all basis.

Under the current system, if Bush had defeated Sen. John Kerry in Maryland by one vote in 2004, the state would have sent 10 electors nominated by the state's Republican Party to the Electoral College to cast votes for Bush.

If enacted this year, Maryland would enter into an interstate compact with other states wanting to award electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. Once enough states join the compact to gain a majority in the Electoral College, the U.S. Congress would have to approve the compact before it could go into effect.

Despite overwhelming public support for the direct election of the president, the effort, which has passed a single house in Colorado, Hawaii and Arkansas, has sparked a dispute because it essentially makes the Electoral College irrelevant without amending the U.S. Constitution, which is a far more difficult task.

Melissa Harris

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