Annapolis ennui

April 04, 2007

When Maryland's 141 delegates and 47 senators adjourn next Monday night to conclude their annual 90-day session in Annapolis, they will face the unenviable task of explaining exactly what they accomplished this year. At the moment, their assessment would have to be: not much. And with time running out, it will take swift and decisive action to produce a different outcome.

Next year's projected $1.5 billion structural deficit and Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to defer consideration of a major tax initiative may have put a damper on the State House from the session's start. But the real obstacle this year has been Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, an ardent fan of legalizing slot machines at racetracks who has blocked proposals that would raise revenue by other means.

If lawmakers want to get serious about enacting the sort of progressive agenda that Maryland voters were promised by Democratic candidates last fall, they can start with health care. A plan to double the state tobacco tax to underwrite health care for thousands of working poor should be a top priority. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly but languishes in the Senate.

Other legislation that needs to be approved in the waning hours involves:

The environment. Mr. O'Malley's "clean cars" initiative to lower vehicle emissions is considered likely to pass but still needs final approval. A less positive outlook is given the Green Fund, the innovative Chesapeake Bay restoration program that would be financed by impact fees on new building.

Smoking. Lawmakers need to close the loophole in the state's ban on smoking in the workplace to include all bars and restaurants - and without the proposed waivers that would substantially compromise the ban's public health benefit.

Ground rent. Legislation to protect homeowners from possible ejectment over relatively minor payment disputes has gotten plenty of lip service - now it needs votes.

Immigration. The governor supports in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants, and the House has approved the bill. Senate criticism over cost is a bit flimsy; analysts peg it at no more than $1.1 million.

Election law. Worthy reforms include adding a paper trail to voting machines, public financing of legislative elections, and a law to prohibit political advertising that makes patently false claims about such matters as party affiliation of candidates and political endorsements.

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