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|April 13, 2001
It's a Wrap: A Look at Maryland's 2001 Legislative Session by Our State Circle Reporters. . .
The 2001 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended this week -- 90 days that brought our state a new drug benefit for seniors, a gay rights law, and a crackdown on drunk driving.
Newsnight Maryland correspondents who covered the General Assembly joined Anchor Jeff Salkin to analyze this year's session.
The issue that caused the biggest fireworks of the session was the move to halt enforcement of the state's DEATH PENALTY. Debate on a proposed moratorium continued into the last minutes before the Senate adjourned for the year. The outcome, and the process, proved controversial.
Senate President Mike Miller (D-Prince George's, Anne Arundel & Calvert Counties) ended the session at 11:45 p.m. Monday, some 15 minutes before the traditional midnight close.
"It was chaos," says senior correspondent John Aubuchon. "The Senate had finally taken up the death penalty moratorium bill shortly after 10:00." The House assumed that it would be on it for the rest of the night until the constitutional adjournment deadline of midnight. Therefore at about 11:30, House leaders "had their desks cleared" and adjourned. When Miller learned the House had adjourned, he decided to adjourn the Senate as well.
Supporters of the death penalty moratorium did win passage of a measure to ensure post-conviction DNA testing for murderers and rapists who may be proven innocent by the results.
Ironically, the last word on the moratorium issue was had by Maryland's Court of Appeals. This week the court refused to expedite consideration of the appeal of the man scheduled for the state's next execution. The court will not hear the case until September, and could take several months to rule on the case, meaning that in effect, Maryland's death penalty is on hold.
Prosecutors like Maryland's new DRUNK DRIVING law, which enables them to tell a judge or jury that a person accused of driving under the influence refused to take a breathalizer test. "That will make a big difference because people who are habitual drunken drivers get wise to the system," says Aubuchon. "They have learned that heck, they can spend six months without a license ... and then get their license back rather than be convicted of drunken driving."
The measure lowers the blood alcohol level to 0.08. Legislators finally acted because the state stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal highway funds if it didn't have the 0.08 statute. Some of the footdragging on tougher drunk driving legislation can be tied to past testimony from the state toxicologist that "he could not say for sure that you are impaired at 0.08," says correspondent Karen Allyn. "Some people would be impaired, some people apparently would not be impaired."
Maryland became the first state in the nation to add GUN SAFETY EDUCATION to its school curriculum. "The gun education safety bill almost died," says correspondent Charles Robinson. "It got over to the House and there were a lot of questions" such as who would teach the classes and how. "In the end they found the compromise that they needed, and that was to let local jurisdictions decide what they wanted to do."
Legislation on CHARTER SCHOOLS died on the last day of the session because no one could decide what entity should be responsible for deciding who gets charter schools.
"The bigger issue here is that the Federal government under the Bush administration is beginning to start doling out millions of dollars, and the state is going to be left out of that until it comes up with an idea of how it wants to settle this charter schools issue," says Robinson.
The Governor's BUDGET raised more than eyebrows among legislators this session. "It was huge and also there were problems associated with what the Governor stuck in it and what he didn't stick in it. That was the major issue that a lot of the legislators kept complaining about on the floor," says Robinson. "The problem is that the Governor sends down the budget, and basically the legislators have to decide which thing are they going to fund and what aren't they going to fund."
Currently, legislators "can't transfer money from one account to the other as they consider the budget," says Aubuchon.
A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT to give legislators the right to transfer funds had 33 cosponsors, more than enough to pass, but it did not. "Governor Glendening put heavy, heavy pressure on the members," says Aubuchon.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG assistance legislation passed will help some 30,000 senior Marylanders get the drugs they need. The program was not part of the Governor's proposed budget because he wanted to see what the federal response would be, says Allyn. However, Economic Matters Committee Chairman Delegate Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County), Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Delegate Ronald Guns (D-Cecil, Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne's & Talbot Counties) and Finance Committee Chairman Senator Thomas Bromwell (D-Baltimore County & Baltimore City) "all really felt passionate about doing something to help them immediately."
"It will affect more Marylanders directly than perhaps any other thing they've done this year," says Aubuchon.
A $10 million subsidy for purses for HORSE RACING died this year. The bill was bottled up in a subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on orders of the House Speaker, and indirectly with influence from the Governor, Aubuchon said.
A Registered NURSE PRACTITIONER bill will allow nurse practitioners to be a primary care provider at health maintenance organizations. "There has been an annual struggle between doctors represented by the state medical association" and "nurses over how much nurses can do," says Aubuchon. This year, the nurses won by a one-vote margin.
REDISTRICTING will be the big issue in the 2002 SESSION. The governor "is putting together a panel of legislators from different areas," says Robinson. Districts from Baltimore City and Baltimore County will be combined, and Montgomery County will get at least one additional senator. Some lines may be redrawn, including the Congressional lines for Congresswoman Constance Morella (R-8th District). "Today Delegate [Mark] Shriver [D-Montgomery County] said he was going to run for her seat; we're going to see some more folks run for that seat," Robinson says.
Morella came close to losing the last election, so changing the district could put her political future in doubt, noted Salkin. "There is now speculation that she might run for governor instead of running for re-election," says Aubuchon.
Also see coverage of Newsnight Maryland's live one-hour April 10th Special Town Meeting with Governor Parris Glendening and key members of the General Assembly who took a look at how the state's lawmakers did.
Newsnight Maryland's State Circle coverage will resume when the State Assembly reconvenes in January 2002. Until then, join us for a new Friday night segment by senior correspondent John Aubuchon who'll be taking a look at Maryland's state government.
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