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Annapolis session preview

Taxes, death penalty, same-sex marriage on session's agenda

Taxes, death penalty, same-sex marriage on session's agenda

January 06, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Discussions about death and taxes are certainties in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session, Washington County's state representatives said.

Lawmakers also expect to be engaged in further debate about same-sex marriage.

With their own bills, they plan to push for tighter ID requirements for voters, broader registration of sex offenders in a state database and a clearer definition of liability for horse boarders.

The General Assembly's 425th session begins Wednesday.

The annual regular session comes after a three-week special session that resulted in a tax package of about $1.3 billion, including a sales-tax increase from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Republicans, many of whom protested the tax package and the special session, are suing to invalidate legislation from the special session on procedural grounds.

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For the coming regular session, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, predicted "a lot of unfinished business and cleanup from the special session."

"For the most part, taxes are behind us - with one exception," Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said, referring to a new tax on computer services.

That tax "was completed in haste," Shank said.

The computer services tax was inserted late into a bill, without public input.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said that tax might have a "barn-door" effect, inviting other expansions in the state's tax on services.

He predicted attempts to broaden the tax and attempts to repeal it.

A repeal could gum up the state's finances, since the computer-services tax is estimated to generate $200 million, said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington.

"If you do away with it, where do you pick that up?" Edwards said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said members of the Democratic majority are upset by the computer-services tax, too.

Repeal movement

The other half of "death and taxes" is a renewed effort to repeal the death penalty.

Last year, a repeal bill supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley failed in a Senate committee. Mooney cast the deciding vote.

Encouraged by New Jersey's recent decision to abolish its death penalty, supporters of a repeal have pledged to try again in Maryland.

Members of Washington County's delegation, where the death penalty has support, are anticipating the same fight this year.

"It will be one of the more debated issues," Edwards said.

Asked if the same outcome is likely this year, Shank said, "You never say never with politicians."

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, one of the more moderate members of the delegation, said the death penalty "has a place in our law and our society."

If there were no death penalty, an inmate serving a life sentence might have "nothing to lose" by killing a correctional officer, Weldon said.

Marriage and more

The General Assembly put a debate over gay marriage on hold last year while the Maryland Court of Appeals considered a challenge to the state's definition of marriage.

A circuit court judge struck down the current law, making same-sex marriages possible, but the decision was appealed.

In the fall, well after the 2007 regular session was done, the Court of Appeals reversed the circuit judge's decision.

Some in the delegation see that as another contentious issue for 2008.

Edwards anticipates a bill for a constitutional amendment to only allow marriage between a man and a woman, plus at least one bill to create civil unions.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said a debate over creating a task force to study gambling in the state will be back, and probably some bills on voting rights.

Health-care affordability also will come up, McKee and Myers said.

One issue Weldon said will "dominate" the legislature is a proposal to reduce carbon emissions in Maryland by 90 percent in the coming decades.

Weldon said he thinks air-quality control is a federal issue, since air doesn't stop at a state's border.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, couldn't be reached Thursday, Friday or Saturday for this story.

Local bills

Weldon has drafted a few of the bills he plans to pursue in the coming session.

One would give local governments more rights when the federal government tries to place power lines.

Another would give horse boarders immunity from civil liability for horse injuries that were not their fault.

A third bill would impose new requirements for child-support payments. Weldon said someone currently needs to pay only the bare minimum to keep a driver's license from being suspended, which is unfair to an ex-spouse trying to raise children.

Mooney plans to reintroduce a bill to grant hate-crimes protection to the homeless.

Mooney previously objected when the state's hate-crimes law was expanded to include sexual orientation. Since then, he has tried to add other classes of people, such as members of the military.

He said some people were angry when he tried to add civil rights leaders to the definition.

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