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The '06 session: No home runs, but a good game

May 14, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

The 2006 edition of the Maryland General Assembly session was a big success for Washington County, according to three members of the county delegation who attended a post-session breakfast on Wednesday.

In a session marred by partisan wrangling, the county still managed to get a double-digit increase in state aid, have all of its bond bills passed and fend off state control of tip jars here, said state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington.

On the minus side, medical malpractice reform was not seriously considered and a bill to provide better oversight of sexual predators once they are released from prison died in a dispute over a last-minute amendment, according to Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington.

Other highlights from the breakfast include:

Lawmakers gave high marks to Mike Johansen, a lobbyist hired by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and three other partners.

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Munson said that with Johansen's connections, local people were able to arrange meetings with legislative leaders that would otherwise have been impossible. Munson said that while Johansen hasn't hit any home runs yet, "if you continue this, there will be some home runs."

Although Del. John Donoghue, the delegation's health-care specialist, could not attend because of a death in the family, lawmakers did react to the chamber's question about the new Massachusetts health-care system and the parts of it Maryland might be able to borrow.

In April, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed a bill that will require every citizens of the state to have health insurance. Those who can't afford the full premium will have it subsidized on a sliding scale.

On April 13, The Washington Times reported that while the bill originally contained a $295-per-worker tax on employers who didn't offer health insurance, Romney used his line-item veto to remove it, saying it was "unnecessary and probably counterproductive."

Shank said that in contrast to Maryland's legislature, which he said jammed a health-care bill down Wal-Mart's throat, Massachusetts began by reaching out to its business community.

Shank said he saw universal care as a future possibility for Maryland, but said that in the short term, the state needs to approve the sale of a "stripped-down" health-insurance package that more people can afford.

All three who attended said they would run again for the offices they currently hold and McKee said he had already filed without any fanfare or announcement.

On eminent-domain reform, Shank said there were 30 bills introduced to make sure any "taking" of property is for a public purpose - a school, a road, etc. - rather than for economic development.

"As a consequence, I would be very skeptical if any local government tried this in the next year and a half," he said.

On a Frederick County official's overheard boast that he had gotten more than usual from the state's Transportation Trust Fund, McKee said that because the distribution is so formula-driven - based on vehicles registered and miles of roadway - he'd be surprised if any area got more than its share.

Reducing the state's gasoline tax is unlikely, McKee and Munson said. The governor can't do it by executive order, McKee said, and Munson said that if it were reduced, the state would have to find revenues for local projects elsewhere.

On the proposal to build a new Pangborn School, which state officials have rejected in favor of renovating the existing one, the three state lawmakers said that it was a complicated matter than couldn't be explained during the brief time provided at the breakfast. They said they support the idea of a new school, however.

On the sex-offender bill, Shank said he was "most disappointed" and blamed the failure to enact on a long set of circumstances, including partisanship.

"This happened because of one delegate who is running for lieutenant governor," Shank charged.

The Baltimore Examiner reported on April 12 that House Democratic Whip Anthony Brown, D-Prince Georges, added an amendment that would have mandated a 25-year minimum sentence for sex crimes against juveniles.

That wasn't supported by legislative leaders, The Examiner reported, because committee chairs oppose mandatory sentences that deprive judges of the ability to take the particular circumstances of each case into account.

Shank said that the governor may be able to make some changes in the law through the state's parole system. Shank also said he would like to see ex-offenders with a history of sex crimes against children outfitted with ankle bracelets containing Global Positioning System tracking devices.

The one key issue delegates didn't get to was the impending end of electric power rate caps for Allegheny Power's residential customers. It's due in 2008 and Munson said afterward he's been in touch with Allegheny officials already on the matter. I'll follow up with all delegation members as soon as possible.




Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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