Legislative Digest

General Assembly 2009

March 31, 2009

Md. Senate to debate operating budget

The Maryland Senate plans this week to debate its version of the state's operating budget that takes back excess profits from Medicaid contractors and trims education funding for local school boards. Both moves put the chamber at odds with the House of Delegates, which approved its version of the budget last week. A conference committee must reconcile the two approaches to balancing the budget in the face of huge shortfalls. Other points of contention likely will be the funding of various programs and local aid. Under the budget forwarded late last week by the Budget and Taxation Committee, senators cut $50 million from a K-12 education formula that provides additional money to school systems where the cost of education is highest. Gov. Martin O'Malley had pledged to fully fund education, but some lawmakers point out that school systems are getting an extra $193 million in federal funding from the economic stimulus package. The committee also decided to take back $23.5 million from Amerigroup Corp. and other managed care organizations that oversee health plans under Medicaid, the government program for the poor, and exceeded a regulatory profit limit of 2 percent over the past two years. Amerigroup lobbyist Steven B. Larsen objected, saying that by statute the state health department - not the budget committees - adjusts the company's profitability through rate setting. The Senate leaves a $142 million cash balance that could be tapped if the economy worsens, or nearly three times the amount in the House's version. The Senate does not take $60 million in local "piggyback" income tax revenue, as the House does. Instead, senators decided to further reduce the local share of highway user funds by that amount.

Laura Smitherman

Driver's license debate continues in Assembly

The House of Delegates voted Friday to allow undocumented immigrants who have a Maryland license to continue driving, while the Senate approved a proposal to end the practice. The debate comes amid the state's attempt to comply with "Real ID," a federal act that, among other security measures, prohibits states from issuing driver's licenses to people who cannot prove that they are in the U.S. legally. The House wants to set up a system in which drivers who already have Maryland licenses would be renewed even without documenting their legal status. Those drivers would be issued a license marked "not federally compliant." The authors of the House plan say the two-tiered system would be acceptable under the Real ID Act. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the House plan "rewards criminal conduct" by allowing drivers who fraudulently obtained Maryland licenses to keep them. Maryland, the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to issue drivers' licenses without proof of legal status in the U.S., has been a magnet for illegal immigrants seeking government-endorsed credentials, Motor Vehicle Administration officials say. The Senate approved a requirement late Friday that all drivers, whether renewing or applying for the first time, prove their "lawful presence" in the U.S., meaning that they are citizens or temporary legal residents. Sen. Richard Madaleno, who represents Montgomery County, and 10 other Democrats voted against the Senate plan. The lawmakers would have to work out the differences in the bills before the legislative session ends.

Julie Bykowicz

Database for state aid to nonprofits approved

The General Assembly has approved legislation to create an online database of nonprofit groups or companies receiving state aid of $50,000 or more. The House of Delegates unanimously approved the bill Monday, after Senate passage this month. The bill, aimed at increasing government transparency, comes after the legislature created a similar database for state expenditures last year and amid efforts to give the public more access to data on how stimulus money is being spent.

Laura Smitherman

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