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From MarylandReporter.com:

2012 BUDGET: The House of Delegates passed the $34 billion budget on Thursday evening, about 90 minutes after the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed their marked-up version, report Megan Poinski and Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

The budget passed by the House would increase spending by about $1.4 billion – much of that to backfill federal dollars from the stimulus bill that have expired and restore education cuts proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, reports Capital News Service's David Saleh Rauf in The Daily Record.

Del. Wendell Beitzel was the only Republican to cross party lines and vote for the budget, reports The Sun's Annie Linskey. He said he believed the House Appropriations Committee had addressed his concerns.

Restoration of $58 million in education cuts was roundly praised in the budget debate, reports the Associated Press' Brian Witte in the Salisbury Daily Times.

The budget bills as passed include a 2% premium tax for the Injured Workers Insurance Fund, reports The Daily Record's Nick Sohr.

The Washington Times' David Hill runs down some of the other fee increases and cost shifts in the House's budget.

WBAL's Robert Lang reports that rental car companies complained to the Senate about the increase in titling fees, saying it would cost them business. Exempting them from the increase would cost the state about $1 million.

STATE PENSIONS: The pension reform plan moving through the legislature would jeopardize teacher recruitment efforts in Maryland by reducing formulas for retirement pay to among the lowest in the nation, union officials argue.

COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Funding for community colleges is in decline in the budget as passed this week, Sarah Breitenbach reports in the Gazette.

ALCOHOL LAWS: It looks like the General Assembly is finally ready to embrace some changes to alcohol laws – including allowing direct shipment from wineries, allowing wine to be sold at farmer's markets, permitting diners to bring wine with them to a restaurant – and increasing the tax. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved a 3% increase in alcohol tax on Thursday, report Julie Bykowicz and Jessica Anderson from The Sun.

If the tax is approved by the full General Assembly, Bykowicz blogs, it will raise $30 million in new dollars next year, and $85 million once fully implemented.

The new tax, just introduced on Monday, would be the first increase in alcohol taxes in nearly four decades, reports Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

The full Senate is expected to start considering the new tax on Monday night, reports WBAL's Robert Lang. WJZ did a video report.

PAROLE DECISIONS: The Senate passed a bill that would give the governor 180 days to take action on recommendations that inmates serving life in prison should be paroled, the Associated Press writes in a story in the Carroll County Times. If the governor fails to act in that window, the inmate would be released.

The Post's John Wagner writes that the House of Delegates already passed a similar bill, giving the governor 90 days to act.

WBAL's Robert Lang has two audio reports on the debate and final outcome.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The Senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow people with a doctor's note indicating that they use marijuana for medical purposes to get out of a misdemeanor charge, according to an Associated Press report in The Daily Record.

The bill also establishes a work group to study legalizing marijuana for medical use, reports The Washington Times' David Hill. Sen. Jamie Raskin tells WJZ that the study will pave the road to legalization, but opponents say that they cannot vote for something counter to federal drug laws.

IGNITION INTERLOCK: A pair of very different bills to expand the ignition interlock program passed both houses of the General Assembly on Thursday, setting the stage for a showdown, reports MarylandReporter.com's Megan Poinski,

EHRLICH: Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich heads to Washington and can say, "I told you so" about the tax-and-spend culture in Annapolis, Blair Lee opines in his Gazette column.

O'MALLEY AMBITIONS: In his Gazette column, Barry Rascovar says Gov. Martin O'Malley's national ambitions are distracting him from governing.

MOPEDS AND SCOOTERS: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a bill that would call for annual fees for moped and motor scooter registration, and requires operators to be licensed, and wear helmets and eye protection, reports the Hagerstown Herald-Mail's Andrew Schotz.

HEALTH CARE EXCHANGE: The new health care exchanges are moving forward, with the Senate Finance Committee approving a bill to establish it earlier this week, and a House committee working on final amendments, reports the Baltimore Business Journal's Emily Mullin.

PRIMARY DATES: Bills are moving through both houses that would make the 2012 presidential primary in April, and move the 2014 gubernatorial primary in June, reports The Post's Ann Marimow and John Wagner.

WIND PROBLEMS: Ellen Saurbrey and Marvin Mandel write a guest editorial in The Daily Record saying that Gov. Martin O'Malley's push for wind power was crafted with no regard to the free market system, and the legislation has no timetable and an increase in utility rates in order to meet a political goal.

CARTER'S EXPLANATION: Del. Jill Carter, whose house may be going on the auction block after not paying her water bill for two years, posted a response to The Sun’s story about it on her Facebook page, blogs The Sun's Laura Vozzella. "So, I'm fallible?" Carter writes. "It's not like i have millions of dollars and just… refuse to pay my debts. Truth is, I abhor being bogged down by bureacracy."

Carter tells WBFF's Joy Lepola that paying her water bill is not high on her list of priorities right now; she's got a legislative session to finish.

ACCIDENTAL SOLICITATION: The company that handles Del. Kirill Reznick’s mass e-mails mistakenly sent out a campaign solicitation this week, reports Germantown Patch's Lauren Sausser. It is illegal for legislators to solicit campaign contributions during the session.

NO ABORTION VOTE: A bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same standards as outpatient surgery centers will not get a Senate vote, reports WBAL's David Collins.

HONEY LABELING: Spurred by beekeepers, Del. Kathy Afzali has proposed a bill that would require honey sold in Maryland to be pure – or labeled otherwise, reports Meg Tully for the Frederick News-Post.

TOLL INCREASES: The Maryland Transit Authority Board plans to make decisions on toll increases in May, have about seven public hearings on them in June and July, and implement them in October, reports The Sun's Michael Dresser.

GROUP HOMES: Less demand for group homes means $126 million in savings for the state, reports Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com. The compromise on extending the time limit for group home employees is also on this page.

UNIVERSITY MERGER: Andrew Ujifusa in the Gazette has more on the proposed merger between the University of Maryland College Park and the professional schools in Baltimore.

PETITION SIGNATURES: A state appeals court ruling allowing for illegible petition signatures could save a couple of small political parties and trigger more ballot initiatives in 2012, Erin Cunningham reports in the Gazette.

UTILITY RELIABILITY STANDARDS: The Public Service Commission voted Thursday to form a new work group to come up with rules setting standards to ensure utilities provide reliable service in severe weather, reports The Sun's Liz Kay.

PG ETHICS: Daniel Valentine reports in the Gazette that lobbying by Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker helped persuade county delegates to support an ethics bill he championed, despite criticism from lawmakers that the proposal lacks meaningful reforms.

In an unusual move, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski testified before the panel on Thursday, according to an Associated Press story in the Carroll County Times.

BRINKLEY NOT CONVINCED: Despite receiving several calls in his office from teachers asking him to support tax increases, Sen. David Brinkley told the Frederick News-Post's Meg Tully he is not convinced and does not plan to support them.

LOCAL FEDERAL SPENDING: U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer defended federal stimulus packages in Waldorf, and called for more federal dollars to help grow local economies, reports The Independent's Erica Mitrano.

REDISTRICTING: Even after adding prisoner population, legislative districts in Baltimore City and Prince George's County are still undersized, Alan Brody and Andrew Ujifusa report in the Gazette.

MOCO PROTESTS: More than 200 Montgomery County workers rallied against County Executive Isiah Leggett's proposals for employees to pay more for pensions and health care, reports The Post's Michael Laris. They occupied the office of County Executive Isiah Leggett, according to Erin Cunningham in the Gazette.

TEACHER EVALUATIONS: State school superintendent Nancy Grasmick is grappling with how to shape evaluations for teachers and still meet promises in the state "Race to the Top" application, reports The Gazette’s Andrew Ujifusa.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette's Reporters Notebook has items on pejorative place names; Steny Hoyer; Sen. Ed Reilly; Sen. Jamie Raskin's chess win; the Montgomery County Council; retiring Howard Freedlander; Ben Kramer and Joe Vallario; and hot mommas in the House.

Read more: http://marylandreporter.com/2011/03/25/state-roundup-march-25-2011/#ixzz1HdPMB0Rp Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

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