Legislative digest

April 04, 2008

Bills seek to ease crisis in housing

Gov. Martin O'Malley held his first bill signing of the year yesterday to enact a number of emergency bills designed to address the foreclosure crisis gripping the state.

The Democratic governor approved three bills to lengthen the minimum length of foreclosure proceedings from 15 days to more than four months, to enact tougher criminal sanctions against mortgage fraud and to crack down on foreclosure-rescue scams in which troubled borrowers are duped into losing title to their homes.

O'Malley and legislative leaders said they wanted the bills signed as soon as possible because, as emergency legislation, they become law immediately. State officials cited a worsening housing crisis in which more than 13,000 homeowners in Maryland were in foreclosure at the end of last year, a 150 percent increase from the previous year.

A group of homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure or who are faced with the prospect of losing their homes joined the ceremony. "I hope that you can see we are trying, and that we're all in this together," O'Malley told the crowd.

Laura Smitherman

House panel rejects abuse reporting bill

The House Judiciary Committee rejected a bill that would have made it a crime for health care workers, police officers, educators and others to fail to report suspected child abuse to authorities.

The bill, which passed the Senate in February, would have made failure to report abuse a misdemeanor. While the bill had been proposed unsuccessfully in previous years, proponents hoped that recent cases that caught the public's attention might help to build support.

Several lawmakers said they heard from teachers and doctors who expressed concern that the bill could put them in legal jeopardy or lead to over-reporting of possible abuse, which would burden caseworkers at local departments of social services.

Under current Maryland law, some professionals, such as nurses, doctors and social workers, must report abuse or face possible sanctions from licensing boards.

Laura Smitherman

Senate OKs online budget database

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved legislation that would create a searchable online database for almost all state spending, a measure backed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.

The bill would allow citizens to search all expenses over $25,000. Budget information is publicly available now, but it's not easy to locate. The House of Delegates has approved its version of the bill.

The legislation drew support both from staunch liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sierra Club and conservative organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform.

"This just shows what can be done when we reach across the aisle for some creative legislation," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "This is a real victory for transparency."

Laura Smitherman and Bradley Olson

Martial arts bill may soon pass

The General Assembly appears close to passing a bill that would allow mixed martial arts events to be staged in Maryland.

The Senate and House of Delegates have each passed by a wide margin bills that would allow the Maryland State Athletic Commission to oversee the competitions, which usually involve a contest inside an octagonal or hexagonal ring or cage with two fighters who use a variety of fighting styles, including boxing, wrestling, kick boxing and jujitsu.

The prospect of regulating the sport, which has grown in popularity in recent years, generated heated debate in both the Senate and House, although the bill appears headed toward passage in both chambers.

"This is a brutal, violent sport," said Del. Patrick McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican who urged colleagues not to allow such events in Maryland.

Del. Dereck E. Davis, who chairs the House subcommittee that recommended the bill's passage, said it was no more brutal than boxing and caused less head trauma.

He also declared himself to be a fan of Chuck Liddell, a former light heavyweight champion for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, one of the most popular mixed martial arts organizations. The House advanced the Senate version of the bill to the final stage before passage.

Bradley Olson

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