Legislative to-do list begins to shrink

Bills addressing sex offender reforms, gangs, texting while driving among final push

April 12, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey | Baltimore Sun reporters

We started the final day of the legislative session with 10 issues to watch. Now that we're down to the final hours, here's what's left on the to-do list before the midnight legislative deadline:

Gaming:Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has identified this as a priority for tonight. Enhancements to the deal that the state can offer bidders on the Rocky Gap slots location is considered a must-pass, but the House has not yet acted on it. There could be another wrinkle to the gaming program, since the Senate amended an unrelated House bill so card games will be allowed at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County. The House leaders do not support gaming there and will likely remove that provision.

Teacher evaluation revisions: Federal money hangs in the balance if this is left undone at midnight. The House and Senate must work out differences in their plans to lengthen by one year the time it takes teachers to reach tenure. Also in that legislative package is a provision to change the way teachers are evaluated by taking into account student performance. This legislation, promoted by Gov. Martin O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, is considered critical as Maryland puts the finishing touches on its federal Race to the Top application.

Tax credits for private schools: This is another Miller priority -- and one that O'Malley also backs. A program supported by the governor to help private schools was transformed in committee over the weekend to a grant program that targets only schools with declining enrollment in aging buildings. Advocates from Jewish schools say their institutions will be excluded from the program. Both chambers will need to take up the bill today.

Drunk driving: The House must decide whether to advance a plan to install interlock devices in the vehicles of more drunk drivers, a plan that the Senate has unanimously approved. But the measure appears stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

Sex offender reforms: The Senate and House of Delegates appear to be well on their way to resolving one of the last outstanding major issues of the session: sex offender reforms. After a series of deals and legislative horse-trading, the chambers' negotiations team has agreed to combine both contentious bills into one big bill --- which happens to be backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley. Lawmakers added an expansion of Jessica's Law, lengthening the minimum prison sentence for certain sex offenders from five to 15 years, to O'Malley's sex offender registry bill.

Foreclosure mediation: A few last-minute technicalities must still be worked out in the governor's proposal to require mediation before homes are foreclosed upon.

Resolved in the past few hours:

Gangs: Over the objections of some Baltimore senators, the Senate joined the House in approving legislation that gives prosecutors more tools in going after gangs by carving out a new crime for gang leaders and extending sentences for gang members convicted of certain crimes.

Text messaging: Both chambers have signed off on a measure making it illegal to read text messages while driving. Writing and sending text messages has been illegal since October. The text bans, unlike the companion hand-held cell phone ban, are primary offenses, meaning police can pull drivers over for that infraction alone.

Bicyclists: The Senate has given final blessing to a measure requiring motorists to give cyclists three feet of space when possible. It appears this legislation is ready for the governor's signature. Tami Bensky, the widow of Lawrence Bensky -- who was fatally struck by a car while riding Tuesday afternoon near Butler and Falls roads in Baltimore County -- was in Annapolis to push for the passage of the legislation.

Legislative pay raises: Legislators have signed off on a joint resolution to reject pay raises.

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