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The '06 General Assembly: What local lawmakers face

January 03, 2006

The 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly opens next week in Annapolis.

Because this is an election year, the legislature is unlikely to address any bills of great substance. Barring a miracle, that hoped-for malpractice reform will not be considered until 2007.

The delegation should press for a commitment to a look at comprehensive reform in 2007. If leadership makes that promise and doesn't keep it, at least there will be something on the record to shame them with.

We also doubt whether there will there be any progress on slot-machine gambling in 2006.

That's true even though without some help, the state's horse-racing industry will suffer. That will increase the likelihood that open space will be lost and the rest of the taxpayers will share the cost of funding infrastructure and schools for new development.

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So what can be accomplished during an election-year session? For one thing, the Washington County delegation can invoke local privilege to keep the state's hands off tip-jar gambling.

The only justification for a state takeover would be corruption in the system, but there's been no evidence of anything like that. Players get a generous payout and local charities receive millions in grants from a citizen commission for worthy projects.

The delegation can also take the lead in pushing for legislation to encourage the construction of more affordable housing. This is a statewide problem that deserves much more attention that it has gotten so far.

Individual members' proposal include Del. Robert McKee's plan to gradually lengthen the school year by 30 days.

McKee said he believes students need extra time because he feels the U.S. is at a competitive disadvantage with other nations in the areas of science, math and technology.

This is a proposal worthy of study despite the cost of paying for additional teacher labor, utilities and transportation.

But there's one big obstacle: Many won't want to give the Baltimore school system more money to do a job in 210 days it seems incapable of doing in 180 days now.

Another worthy idea comes from Del. LeRoy R. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, who wants a bill to help associations purchase group health insurance for their members.

And speaking of helping groups, the delegation needs to look at ways to help the residential customers of Allegheny Energy form cooperatives to purchase affordable power when the cap on their rates comes off in 2008.

Citizens have already experienced steep increases in the price of gasoline, home heating oil and natural gas. The delegation has more than a year to make sure that consumers don't get clobbered again by forces beyond their control.

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