The '07 Session: Looking Back

General Assembly

April 10, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka and Andrew A. Green | Jennifer Skalka and Andrew A. Green,SUN REPORTERS

Gov. Martin O'Malley

The new Democratic governor had the biggest impact in his inaugural General Assembly session tackling matters that had little to do with the legislature: taking swift action on juvenile justice reforms after the death of a Baltimore youth at Bowling Brook, a privately run detention center; and closing the more than century-old Maryland House of Correction at Jessup two weeks after a guard was killed there.

When it came to legislation, his agenda was modest and his results mixed.

O'Malley had great success with measures that lawmakers' were already supporting, including clean cars, ground rent reforms and a statewide smoking ban.

He didn't fare as well with two other high-profile matters, a repeal of the death penalty and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, both measures that he said he would have signed had the General Assembly approved them. Late lobbying for the first-in-the-nation living-wage bill that was passed by the Assembly was a plus for him.

O'Malley got high marks from lawmakers of both parties for his outreach, which included invitations to members to lunch at Government House.

His attempts at quelling the rancor that spoiled Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s dealings with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly were hailed as a fresh and needed change in the way business is done at the State House.

Del. Michael E. Busch and Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller

Busch, the House speaker, and Miller, the Senate president, proved that their relationship isn't confined to fighting over slot machines. They can also quarrel about health care, the environment, transportation funding and taxes.

Miller, entering his third decade leading the Senate, got the better of the confrontation this year, blocking Busch's proposals to expand health insurance coverage through a tobacco tax increase and to fund a Chesapeake Bay cleanup through a fee on development.

Next year - when lawmakers will work to address a $1.5 billion structural deficit - will be more telling. Who has the real muscle? Will Busch agree to a slot-machine gambling proposal sure to be backed by Miller and O'Malley?

The Republicans

Battered by last year's election losses, including the governor's mansion, Republicans picked new leadership in the House and Senate, to mostly positive reviews.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, the new minority leader from Frederick County, and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, the minority whip from Howard County, were expected to set a measured tone, and they did, standing up on property rights and the budget without sounding shrill.

The bigger surprise was in the House of Delegates, where Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, who as minority whip was former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief foot soldier in the legislature, moved up a spot to become minority leader. He joined Del. Christopher B. Shank, the new minority whip, in scoring a victory on a bill to strengthen punishments for sexual predators.

Republicans in both chambers made a strong push for the state to consider spending cuts rather than tax increases to solve Maryland's long-term budget problems. Still, the party is far outnumbered in both chambers. The state party, which has a new leader but lost its only communications staff member, remained mostly mum throughout the session.

The Baltimore Oriole

After 60 years as Maryland's sole state bird, the black-and-orange emblem of Baltimore's baseball team faced the possibility of sharing that honor with the raven, a bird associated with Edgar Allan Poe and Baltimore's football team. The bill was introduced by Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, at the behest of elementary school children. It died in a House committee.

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr.

The irascible chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a Prince George's County defense lawyer who doesn't like mandatory minimum anythings, was set to let Jessica's Law - prohibiting parole for serious sex offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences - die a quiet death in his desk drawer.

But rough treatment on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News television show changed his mind in a hurry. Next thing you know, he was a co-sponsor, standing on the floor of the House to proclaim the virtues of the bill. Such conversions don't mean much to the O'Reilly Factor audience. He is still getting slammed by Fox viewers for not embracing Jessica's Law from the start.

Del. Keith E. Haynes

The Baltimore Democrat was far enough out on a limb with his proposal to automatically expunge the records of people who are arrested but not charged with a crime that nobody signed on as a co-sponsor, and nobody filed a companion bill in the Senate. But he pushed it through with only token opposition in the House and stared down the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where legislators wanted to attach potentially fatal amendments. In the end, even the Fraternal Order of Police got on board, and the bill sailed through the Senate.

Sen. Jamie Raskin

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