Md. lawmakers pass bills seeking private investments, granting break to defense giant

Buttons used to register votes are seen on the desk of a member of the House of Delegates. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Update 5 p.m.: The Maryland General Assembly has made it state policy to seek out private investors to build roads, bridges, schools, libraries, state office buildings and other big-ticket items, joining a wave of left-leaning states embracing so-called public-private partnerships, or P3. The arrangements have long been supported by several Republican-led states, including Virginia, but have gained in popularity among Democrat-led states amid prolonged budget shortfalls.

The bill was one of the session’s last outstanding priorities for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) had personally lobbied lawmakers for its passage.

Montgomery County freezes most hiring and purchasing

Montgomery County freezes most hiring and purchasing

Freeze applies to remainder of fiscal year to try to offset an estimated $179 million budget shortfall.

Gov.-elect Hogan names four members of his Cabinet

Gov.-elect Hogan names four members of his Cabinet

Hogan picked James D. Fielder as his secretary of appointments and kept around an O’Malley Cabinet member.

Gathering with backers, O’Malley avoids talk of 2016

Gathering with backers, O’Malley avoids talk of 2016

The Maryland governor and potential presidential candidate huddled with more than 100 supporters of his PAC.

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Controversially, the legislation would exclude some of Maryland’s biggest contracts from its decades-old procurement process, which was written after a series of favoritism scandals dating to the 1960s. The law would allow private companies to use tolls, rents and other fees over a period of up to 50 years to recoup costs and turn a profit on public infrastructure. The Senate, which rejected the measure last year, accepted it on the second go-round after amendments aimed at increasing accountability.

Brown said that in conjunction with the state’s gas tax increase, which will give the state money to invest, he was confident that Maryland would announce new privately funded infrastructure projects by the end of 2013. “Beyond roads, bridges and rails, this provides a great opportunity to partner with the private sector to invest in greater broadband, wastewater and social infrastructure like libraries and schools,” Brown said.

In a related move, the assembly previously directed state transportation officials to pursue one of three major transit projects now under consideration as a public private partnership. Two of those three are in the Washington area: a rapid transit bus system along the Interstate 270 corridor and a planned light-rail line connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, known as the purple line.

Update 2 p.m.: The Maryland House of Delegates gave final approval Monday, 101 to 36, to a measure exempting Lockheed Martin from paying about $450,000 a year in hotel taxes to Montgomery County related to a training center that the giant defense contractor operates in Bethesda.

Supporters of the measure, which had passed the Senate, argue that the lodging facilities at the center are not a hotel and that the action was consistent with a decision the General Assembly made in 2010 to exempt it from state sales taxes.

But critics say the state legislative action defied the will of a majority of the Montgomery County Council, which is on record opposing the tax break.

The bill now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for his signature.

The House also gave final approval, 117 to 18, to a bill sponsored by O’Malley that seeks to attract additional investments in Maryland infrastructure through public-private partnerships. A similar measure failed last year. This year’s bill, which had passed the Senate, now goes to O’Malley.

Update 11:45 a.m.: The Maryland Senate on Monday gave final approval, 42 to 4, to a measure to authorize the distribution of medical marijuana by academic medical centers.

Legislative analysts say that it is unlikely that distribution would begin before 2016 and that it is unclear how many institutions would choose to participate.

But supporters of the bill, which passed the House last month, have hailed it as a significant step toward a compassionate treatment option for people with illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, separate legislation, passed last month in the Senate, that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana has died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Asked Monday if he planned a vote on the bill, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) said: “No, no, no. Bad message to the kids.”

The bill would have subjected people caught with 10 grams or less to only a civil fine of $100, a move supporters say would ease criminal caseloads in the courts.

The Senate gave also gave final approval 38 to 9 on Monday to a bill that would for the first time allow residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.

Same-day registration would be available during early voting, which under the bill would be expanded from six days to eight. In addition, the bill would increase the number of early voting sites.

Both the early voting and medical marijuana bills now go to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for his signature.

The House of Delegates is scheduled to convene at noon Monday.

Original post: Maryland lawmakers will start the final day of their 2013 session in an unusual place Monday: with most of the heavy lifting behind them.

There are still hundreds of bills to pass before their planned midnight adjournment, but most of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s priorities — including gun control, repeal of the death penalty and transportation funding — have made it across the finish line.

So too has a bill restructuring governance of Prince George’s County Schools, which the House of Delegates sent to O’Malley (D) on Saturday.

The Senate returns at 10 a.m. and the House comes in at noon for a long day of debate, with a few breaks to attend receptions.

Some final votes on O’Malley bills remain, including legislation to expand early voting, help military veterans find jobs and encourage public-private partnerships.

A bill to establish a framework for distribution of medical marijuana is one vote away from passage in the Senate. Meanwhile, a bill that provides a controversial tax break to Lockheed Martin needs needs just one more vote in the House to pass.

The fate of a bill clarifying liability standards for dog bites, including those of pit bulls, is less clear.

And some give-and-take remains before the House and Senate can agree on a far-reaching campaign finance reform bill.

Some final-day work also remains on a bill that would allow police to pull drivers over for talking on a cell phone. Talking on a cellphone while driving is illegal, but it is currently classified as a secondary offense, meaning motorists can’t be cited unless they are stopped for something else.

A status report on high-profile bills can be found here and will be updated throughout the day.

 
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