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BUDGET PASSES: The state Senate added millions to Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal last night, passing a $14.6 billion spending plan that relies on a new tax on alcohol to restore funding to schools in Baltimore and Prince George's County next year, the Sun's Annie Linskey reports.

Following barely 80 minutes of debate on the budget and the legislation to implement it, the Senate approved it 37-10, reports Len Lazarick for In rapid order, and with minimal discussion in the often long-winded Senate, the senators also defeated nine Republican amendments.

Maryland would impose more than $70 million in fee increases for things like car titles and filing land records, and state employees would have to pay 2% more of their salaries to help preserve the state's defined benefit pension plan, according to Brian Witte of the Associated Press, appearing in the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

The Frederick News Post's editorial board complains that where citizens get hammered in this budget is on a number of fee increases that would generate $70 million in new revenue.

And also in the News Post opinion pages, Marta Mossburg writes that the House overwhelmingly passed a $14.6 billion operating budget last week by once again billing residents later for the party today.

PENSION SAVINGS: Megan Poinski reports for that the Maryland House and Senate voted to cut pension benefits for state teachers and employees and raised contribution rates and retirement ages. But millions of the savings from the reduced benefits won't shore up the pension plans, but instead will be funneled into the operating budget.

IWIF EXEMPTION: Nick Sohr of the Daily Record reports that the Maryland Senate voted down an attempt to extend the quasi-public Injured Workers' Insurance Fund's exemption from the insurance premium tax last night evening during a wide-ranging debate on budget issues.

TRANSGENDER PROTECTION: Senate President Mike Miller says that the bill to to prohibit employer and housing discrimination for the transgendered, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Delegates, has a "next to none" chance of getting out of the Senate Rules Committee, blogs Annie Linskey for the Sun.

NEGLIGENT DRIVERS: Several people who have had their lives changed because of negligent drivers testified yesterday in favor of a bill that would stiffen penalties for those drivers who kill someone through negligence, reports Barry Simms of WBAL-TV. John Rydell of WBFF-TV also reports about the bill.

POACHING BILLS: The Capital News Service's Kerry Davis writes in the Daily Record that a bevy of poaching bills are making their way through the House of Delegates and Senate, highlighting divisions among lawmakers who are trying to address poaching problems in different ways.

SICKENING POLITICKING: Del. Kathy Afzali has gone from being happy to have the governor's support for her bill to provide tax relief to farmers to being what she describes as "sickened" by politicking that now threatens its passage, writes the Associated Press in the Salisbury Daily Times.

BYOW BILL DIES: While legislation that would allow wineries to mail wine directly to customers appears ready to become law, another movement to permit patrons of restaurants that have a liquor license to bring in their own bottle of vino has died on the vine, Scott Graham reports for the Baltimore Business Journal. BPA BAN: WBAL-TV reports that Maryland is on track to become the third state to ban the chemical bisphenol-A from infant formula containers.

HONEY SALES: The Maryland Senate will discuss legislation to set standards for honey sold in the state, writes Meg Tully for the Frederick News Post.

A FRESH DELEGATE: The Gazette's Jen Bondeson profiles freshman Del. Shane Robinson of Montgomery County, a bright guy who is learning the ropes in Annapolis.

THREAT TRIAL: A 47-year-old construction worker stood trial yesterday for the second time on charges of making a threat of bodily injury to a public official – in this case Gov. O'Malley – a crime that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, writes Nick Madigan of the Sun.

VAN HOLLEN SEEKS HELP: U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen wants former President Jimmy Carter to use a trip to Cuba this week to help free a Potomac contractor held by the Castro government for more than a year. But Carter suggested that the man's release is not the main focus of his trip, John Fritze blogs for the Sun.

JOHNSON HEARING: Daniel Valentine of the Gazette writes that a plea hearing is scheduled May 4 for Prince George's County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, who is facing federal witness and evidence tampering charges. She is the wife of former County Executive Jack Johnson.

She is facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, Alex Pappas reports for the Washington Examiner.

LEOPOLD TACTICS: Opinionators for the Sun say that Anne Arundel County Exec John Leopold, whose no-frills campaign style served him well when running for the House of Delegates, needs to change his tactics and hire campaign staff.

FICKER ACTION: Montgomery County activist Robin Ficker says he will begin collecting signatures in April to put three issues on the ballot in 2012. Ficker said he will petition to implement term limits for county elected officials, place a cap on energy tax increases and eliminate collective bargaining for county government employees, including teachers, reports Erin Cunningham for the Gazette.

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