Preakness Bill Signed

General Assembly 2009

April 15, 2009|By Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter | Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com and gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation Tuesday giving the state eminent domain rights over the Preakness Stakes horse race, hours after the fast-tracked bill passed in the General Assembly.

The Democratic governor also approved bills expanding unemployment benefits for part-time workers and conforming state law to federal rules intended to guard against mortgage fraud and employment discrimination against women and other workers. O'Malley said the theme of his first bill signing this year was the protection of working families.

The ceremony capped a 90-day session during which lawmakers struggled with revenue shortfalls and had few resources for new, big-ticket programs. Nonetheless, legislative leaders noted a high degree of cooperation in the Democratic-controlled legislature on a workload that centered on workplace, public safety and environmental policy changes.

"We accomplished that, I think, because everybody pulled together in these times of stress," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "There was very little infighting."

Lawmakers, some of whom donned "Save the Preakness" badges on the session's last day, quickly rallied around the bill that authorizes the state to acquire racing assets of bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp., including Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and rights associated with the second leg of the Triple Crown and its trophy, the Woodlawn Vase.

Other bills incorporate federal laws onto state books. One adopts new requirements under a federal act creating a national licensing system for residential mortgage originators. Another mirrors the first bill signed by President Barack Obama that reverses a Supreme Court ruling that had restricted the ability to sue for pay discrimination.

"We all want our children to have equal opportunities," said Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Baltimore Democrat.

Other bills signed yesterday replace "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" in state code and rename state facilities to incorporate the more politically correct term, and require that flags displayed on state property be manufactured in the United States.

A number of animal-theme bills also became law, such as one that ensures enforcement of a trust created as part of an estate to provide for the care of a beloved pet. A separate local bill makes it illegal to kill a dog found pursuing a deer in Washington County; that is already against the law in Baltimore, Howard and other counties.

As some of O'Malley's legislative agenda failed to gain traction, the governor vowed to push again next year for legislation that would give state officials greater latitude to pursue Medicaid fraud and re-regulating the electricity market. He lashed out at those in the House of Delegates who complained that they didn't have enough time to consider his proposal to give the state more authority to drive new electricity generation in the state.

"Those who complained they hadn't read the bill should have read the bill," O'Malley told reporters. "Both of those bills are coming back next year."

Meanwhile, the governor's office has asked the state attorney general's office for guidance on another measure that ends the ability of illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses to comply with a federal security law.

Advocates for immigrants are concerned about panic among undocumented residents in the weeks before the legislation takes effect in June.

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