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Session ends with low drama

April 10, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - On a closing day devoid of the typical drama, Washington County lawmakers couldn't remember such a low-key finale to a Maryland General Assembly session.

"This is my 17th year," Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said. "I'd say this is one of the quietest Sine Dies."

Sine Die, a Latin phrase for the end of the session, is a common shorthand for the General Assembly's wrap-up day.

"Eerily quiet," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, described it.

A living-wage bill that passed the Senate was one of the bigger issues of the day. The measure, which guarantees higher-than-minimum pay under state contracts, previously passed the House. Gov. Martin O'Malley supports it.

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A bill aimed at cracking down on gang crime also passed, in a weaker form than some lawmakers had hoped.

Virtually all of Washington County's legislative issues were decided before Monday.

Only two relatively minor county bills were left for consideration on the last day; both received final approval during an afternoon Senate session.

One lets the county's liquor board find out and take action against a liquor license holder after an employee is charged with selling alcohol to a minor.

The other lets the county publish and distribute a current edition of local laws.

Also, an open meetings bill sponsored by Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, was approved.

But the closest to last-minute fireworks in the House was a bill to prohibit anyone from standing in a roadway in Anne Arundel County to advertise or solicit donations.

A debate broke out, largely over the limitation on political speech. The bill passed, but 25 delegates - including Shank and Weldon - voted no, an unusual show of House opposition for what was considered a local bill.

Legislators typically defer to the wishes of local lawmakers on issues that only affect their area.

Other than that, activity on the last day was constant - requiring several sessions in each house - but mostly routine.

"This is different than (my) first 12 - slow, not a lot of what would be controversial legislation," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, the delegation chairman, was concerned early in the day that a Senate filibuster aimed at the living-wage bill could create a logjam. The filibuster didn't materialize.

Myers said lawmakers usually let up on their pace a week before the session ends, expecting the final days to be hectic.

But floor sessions in the final week this year were relatively short and the House didn't need to use the final Saturday as a work day, which was unusual, he said.

"It's an era of good feelings," Shank said, referring to the early stages of O'Malley's administration.

Next year, though, the General Assembly will take on a deficit expected to be about $1.5 billion.

Shank said the easygoing mood this year is "under the veneer of next session (which) will be a much different tone."

"Some of the difficult decisions" - on taxes and on slots - "have yet to be made," McKee said.

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