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Ehrlich agenda should not be held hostage to politics

February 01, 2005

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's recent call for more respect from legislative leaders got more attention, but the governor's 2005 legislative program has some good ideas that deserve serious attention.

Lawmakers should give it serious consideration and keep the welfare of the state's citizens as their first priority, as opposed to trying to score political points for the 2006 elections.

The legislature's first job should be passage of a bill to legalize slot machines. We sympathize with those who oppose all forms of gambling, but with other states drawing revenue from Marylanders who favor this activity, it doesn't make sense to let those dollars go.

In the past, House Speaker Michael Busch has blocked the bill, in part because he believes it should be coupled with a tax increase. As we've said before, pass the slots bill now, and if more money is needed later, that's the time to argue for a tax increase.

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The next task should be creating the basis for comprehensive reform of the state's malpractice laws. The governor should demand - and Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller should agree - to assign committees to do research now for a special session this summer. If Miller and Busch don't agree, that will be a strong sign they weren't serious about comprehensive reform.

Other items on Ehrlich's legislative agenda include:

· Strengthening the state's lead paint laws.

· Tightening restrictions on beginning drivers and increasing penalties for misbehavior behind the wheel.

· Creating a phased-in income-tax exemption on the military pensions of Maryland residents with at least 20 years of active-duty service.

· Adding additional jail time for those convicted of intimidating witnesses.

On this last measure, a controversial portion of the proposal would allow out-of-court statements from witnesses during trials. House Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George's, opposes that, saying that the Constitution guarantees the right to confront one's accusers.

We hope Democratic legislative leaders are ready to confront the possibility that if they obstruct good proposals for dubious reasons, the voters will see it for the political maneuvering that it is.

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