By Baltimore Sun staff
7:26 AM EDT, April 12, 2011
State budget: The General Assembly approved a $14.6 state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, closing a budget gap of about $1.5 billion. Part of a $34 billion spending plan that includes federal contributions and other pots of money, the general fund spending plan includes several fee increases, raising the cost of obtaining a birth certificate, getting a vanity license plate and recording real estate transactions, among others.
Capital budget: Lawmakers approved $925 million in new borrowing as part of a $3 billion capital budget. Sen. Catherine Pugh unsuccessfully sought to require Baltimore City government to explain how it will pay victims who have been awarded compensation for lead paint poisoning. Conferees believed a last-minute letter from the mayor sufficed.
Pensions: State workers would increase their contribution to the pension plan from 5 percent to 7 percent of their income, the age at which they could receive retirement benefits would go up and the conditions under which they could receive a cost of living increase would change.
Alcohol tax: Come July 1, Marylanders will see the tax on beer, wine and spirits rise for the first time in more than a generation. Late Monday, lawmakers signed off on a plan to bump the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent.
Invest Maryland: The House reduced the size and scope of O’Malley’s Invest Maryland capital fund. The state will sell tax credits to make available about $75 million — down from $100 million — for venture capital. The state Department of Business and Economic Development would dole out about one-third of that money, less than the 50 percent O’Malley had sought for the state agency. The rest would go to private venture capitalists to invest.
Rocky Gap: After failing to attract a developer in the first two rounds of bidding, the legislature sweetened the deal for the prospective operator of the slots casino proposed for Western Maryland. The General Assembly would slash the tax rate on gaming revenues from 67 percent to 50 percent and waive $3 million in fees. But the casino would be limited to 1,000 machines.
Farm estate tax: Though O’Malley backed the bipartisan effort, legislative committees sidelined a proposal to offer estate tax breaks to relatives who inherit farmland and intend to keep it that way, citing the estimated $2 million cost.
Cell phone use while driving: The legislature expanded the existing ban on writing texts while driving to prohibit reading them, as well. But a Senate committee squashed House legislation that would have authorized police to pull over drivers for using their handheld cells. A driver must also be committing another offense to be issued a citation for talking on the phone.
Child neglect: The General Assembly created a new category of crime for those who neglect children. O’Malley wanted to make neglect a felony; lawmakers would make it a misdemeanor.
Interlock for drunk drivers: Drunk drivers who far exceed the blood-alcohol limit will be required to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. Drivers who decline to take a breathalyzer test would also be required to use the devices. Anyone who declines to participate would have their license revoked.
In-state tuition for illegal immigrants: Undocumented students who attend at least three years of high school in the state and whose parents or guardians pay state taxes will be able to attend community college at in-state tuition rates. After earning 60 credit hours, those students could transfer to four-year institutions and continue to pay in-state rates.
Gay marriage: The Senate wanted the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the measure did not find enough support in the House, where the leadership sent it back to committee.
Medical marijuana: Maryland will study how to develop and implement a plan to distribute medical marijuana. Meanwhile, sick people found with less than 1 ounce of the drug would be able to argue medical necessity as a defense.
Transgender anti-discrimination: Though the House approved a plan to prohibit employers, creditors and housing authorities from discriminating against transgendered people, the Senate on Monday bottled up the bill in a committee, killing it for the year.
Abortion: Lawmakers were aghast at news that a New Jersey doctor had started abortions in his state and completed them in Maryland, but rejected an effort by conservatives to regulate the procedure more closely. The state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is charged with writing new rules over the summer.
Picketing at funerals: Horrified by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right for protesters to jeer during funerals for war veterans, the state increased a buffer between picketers and funerals from 100 yards to 500 yards.
Stents: A pair of bills aims to track and curtail the use of unnecessary medical procedures, such as heart stents, through information sharing. The move comes amid an investigation of stent procedures at St. Joseph Hospital.
Septic system ban: O’Malley proposed a ban on septic systems in most large new developments; lawmakers, concerned about the impact on rural areas, opted to study the idea.
Wind energy: Nervous about the potential costs to utilities ratepayers, lawmakers sent O’Malley’s idea to create an offshore wind farm to summer study.
Health care exchanges: The legislature approved a framework for a market allowing the purchase and sale of health insurance, a structure that must be in place before the federal health overhaul can go forward in the state.
Wine shipping: Beginning July 1, Marylanders can get up to 18 cases of wine per year shipped directly to their homes. Wineries must pay $200 per year to ship to Maryland.
Primary date: Under pressure from the national Democratic and Republican parties, Maryland moved the date for the 2012 presidential primary to April. The 2008 primary was in February. The legislation also moves the 2014 gubernatorial primary to June. The 2010 primary was in September.
Online voter registration: Marylanders would be able to register to vote without leaving their homes. Republicans objected, noting that the $245,000 cost of creating a new system comes from the Fair Campaign Fund, cash that taxpayers gave to the State Board of Elections with the belief it would be used as public funds for gubernatorial campaigns.
MVA voter registration: The state’s Department of Transportation pledged to overhaul their motor-voter procedures after The Sun reported that one of four motorists who tried to register did not make it to the voter rolls.
Baltimore water bills: Lawmakers would make it more difficult for the city to seize a home for unpaid water bills by raising the trigger amount from $250 to $350 and the number of months delinquent from six to nine.
Dining with dogs: Beginning July 1, restaurants would be able to let owners bring their dogs for outdoor dining.
Negro Mountain: Lawmakers declined to appoint a commission to rename the Western Maryland mountain, the current name of which some called offensive and outdated.
Phone books: Phone companies would no longer be required to deliver the White Pages to residential customers every year. Customers can access the white pages online, or request an electronic or print copy free of charge.
Statues: Senate decides not to remove a statue of founding father John Hanson to make room for one of Underground Railroad hero Harriett Tubman in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S. Capitol.
Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun