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Maryland General Assembly

Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; 12:00 PM

A bitter division over whether to allow state spending on embryonic stem cell research could add drama on the Maryland General Assembly's final day of work Monday, as that provision and a host of other contentious measures have their final shot at legislative approval, Washington Post staff writers Matthew Mosk and John Wagner reported in Monday's article, "Filibuster May Roil Last Day Of Session" (Post, April 11).

Matthew Mosk was online Monday, April 11, at Noon ET to examine the Maryland General Assembly's final days in session on its scheduled day of adjournment.


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Recent Post Coverage:
Ehrlich Counts on Unorthodox Appeals to Clinch His Agenda (Post, April 11)
Filibuster May Roil Last Day Of Session (Post, April 11)
Senate Overrides Ehrlich's Vetoes (Post, April 10)
Blueprint for a Legislative Probe Might Need Updating (Post, April 10)
Assembly Passes Bill Affecting Only Wal-Mart (Post, April 10)
Maryland Bill Attacks Scams In Foreclosure Consulting (Post, April 9)

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Matthew A. Mosk: Welcome. As we speak, the House and Senate are at work on their final day's worth of business. It's been an interesting 90-day session, with plenty of contention between the General Assembly's Democratic leaders and the state's first Republican governor in a generation. The session will end at midnight tonight, and there are still many of the key issues unresolved. I'm eager to hear what's on your minds.

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Wheaton, Md.: Why is the General Assembly so hung up on slot machines? We already have gambling in Maryland in the form of horse racing/off-track betting, Keno and Lottery. What's the difference? Why are slot machines any worse than these other forms of gambling?

Matthew A. Mosk: It seems a safe bet to start with slots, since this is the issue that has dominated the Annapolis legislative scene for the third straight year. One answer to your question has to do with lobbyists, and the amount of money that slots would yield for powerful interests. That has kept the issue on the front burner.

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Charles County, Md.: Why is Michael Busch being such a pain about slots?. Just because he does not want them, why should he deprive those who do? I hope he has his next career ready come election time.

Why keep holding up slots, They are in Delaware, West Virginia and Pa. What are they waiting on? Virginia ? People are just taking their money out of the state.

Charles County died after the slots left. Colonial Beach became a dive, both were safe and striving during slots. The issue of crime is a bunch of bull, you got gangs to keep the cops busy, and I never see a gang in a casino. And the moral issue, I pray and I gamble, I think my good deeds out do my sins by far.

Matthew A. Mosk: What we've learned this year is that slots are much more popular before people learn where they're going to be located. House Speaker Michael Busch capitalized on this concept this year, by drafting a bill that would place slots in mostly Republican areas. His aim, it seems, was to force the governor to work even harder to get this accomplished.

As for why he has opposed them: The reason he's given is that he does not want to approve slots in a way that will enrich a handful of already wealthy and powerful interests.

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Baltimore, Md.: Is the Legislature still considering re-naming BWI to honor Thurgood Marshall? I find this to be a waste of taxpayer money. Justice Marshall should be recognized but at a cost of two million dollars is excessive. The state has fought budget deficits for the past few years. Why not take that same two million dollars and put it into a program that the Justice stood for? Why not take that two million dollars and rename State Departments that are mis-named. The Legislature has rejected the re-naming of departments in the past because of the cost. What is the return on the investment?

Matthew A. Mosk: This is one of those unresolved issues that we'll learn the outcome of by the end of today. The bill passed easily in the House. It has had trouble in the senate. The stated reason for holding it up has to do with the marketing of BWI airport. Beyond having to redo signs and stationary, I'm not sure what the greater concerns may be.

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Frederick, Md.: I think I'm pretty typical of Marylanders in that I have a mixed view on slots: I am concerned about the problems associated with gambling. On the other hand, I'd love to have the increased revenue that gambling could provide.

It seems to me that the governor has erred in not earmarking the projected gambling revenues for a specific purpose. If he came out and said that the money would be used, say, to fund new school construction in the state or to pay for an expansion of the state's children's health program or to solve our transportation problem, he'd have more success, in my view.

Right now, gambling seems a hard sell because people aren't convinced that it will improve the standard of living in this state. Gov. Ehrlich needs to do more to show the average citizen that his plan isn't simply a windfall for the slots owners -- and earmarking the funds for specific programs would go a long way toward doing that.

Any thoughts?

Matthew A. Mosk: In fact, the governor has done just that. This year, he specifically targeted slots proceeds to school construction. And your instincts are correct, insofar as the machines poll much better with voters if the money goes towards education. But that did not appear to do the trick for the governor this year.

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Washington, D.C.: So -- has a stem cell filibuster begun?

Matthew A. Mosk: Not yet...My sense is that the senate is trying to complete as much business as possible before letting the bill onto the floor. Anything that has not passed before it arrives could get stuck for good.

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Baltimore, Md.: Health Care voters with Maryland for Health Care did a lot of work in passing Fair share Health Care out of the General Assembly by urging elected officials to support it. Do you believe Fair Share health care is a step in the right direction and what else can citizens and lawmakers do to solve our state's health care crisis?

Matthew A. Mosk: This has been a hotly debated issue this session. One question opponents have asked is whether it is fair to single out one business -- Wal-Mart -- for this requirement. It appears likely the governor will veto it, and we won't learn until next year whether the legislature has the numbers needed to override him.

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Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Mosk -- Do you think there will actually be an investigation into the personnel practices of the Ehrlich administration? The concern over the 'dusty' nature of applicable law for the investigation makes me wonder if feet are getting cold.

Matthew A. Mosk: Lawmakers maintain they are committed to doing this. They have come up with another approach, which would involve bringing together the House and Senate leaders

Matthew A. Mosk: Lawmakers maintain they are committed to doing this. They have come up with another approach, which would involve bringing together the House and Senate leaders and having them issue subpoenas. This is going to be a trick matter for Democrats, who want to keep any investigation tightly focused on the governor's personnel practices.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: One of the lessons learned a few years ago in Louisiana is: there can be too many gambling establishments. They overbuilt gambling places and many failed. New Jersey may be hitting the saturation level, as noted by Trump Casino filing for bankruptcy. Now, Pennsylvania is building casinos. So, why are some legislators still fighting to build casinos in Maryland? Maryland may be attempting to join the game too late.

Matthew A. Mosk: The senate president, Mike Miller, has made a similar point, although he strongly supports slots. He says the interest gambling is cyclical, and Maryland has just about missed it's opportunity to really benefit from this. Now that Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia have slots, there's some question whether there would be as much to gain. Other supporters, however, say there's a strong market in Maryland, given its proximity to DC and Virginia.

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Olney, Md.: Not a question, just an observation.

Two pro-slots posts right off the bat ... I'm assuming you got a whole bunch of these that probably sounded like they were taken from the same playbook. Good to know Joe Steffen is still keeping busy!

Matthew A. Mosk: Maybe, but I don't think there's any question that slots have advocates out there, far and beyond the governor and his aides. And we see plenty of evidence that they have worked very hard to persuade the legislature to legalize the machines.

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Annapolis, Md.: To clarify the slots situation:

Mike Busch is not the only person who opposes slots. Despite the economic benefits supposedly gained by the communities where slots would be located (increased jobs, tourism, etc), both the Prince George's and Baltimore City House delegations are opposed to slots in their jurisdictions -- precisely where Ehrlich wants to put them.

Considering the increased crime that would come with slots, it makes no sense to put them in lower-income, African American communities. But there's a lot of NIMBY -- no one wants slots in their backyard, including the Governor, who refuses to put them in Timonium.

Matthew A. Mosk: This is true. The speaker's position has always been that his position needs to reflect the views of House members. And those from Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore City, have voiced strong opposition to slots plans that put emporiums in their jurisdictions.

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Sterling, Va.: Hi Matthew, off the subject at hand. I understand you wrote an article regarding the Donna Dustin case in Bowie, Maryland.
Any breaking news as to what is going on that can be made public?

Matthew A. Mosk: Thank you for your question. This may be of little interest to readers of legislative news, but the writer refers to an unsolved murder from more than a decade ago of a young woman from Bowie. To the best of my knowledge the case is still active, but nothing has pushed it to the point of an arrest. Detectives in Anne Arundel County, where the murder occurred, still hope leads can come in from those who knew Donna, and might have been present the night she was killed.

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Germantown, Md.: Governor Ehrlich seems resigned to shelving the slots issue until next year's election is over. That tells me that he believes he's going to win a second term.

I know it's early, but at this point, how likely is it that there will be an Ehrlich, round two?

Matthew A. Mosk: Back to the topic at hand...this raises a question that many have been asking this week: is the slots issue done until after the election. Remember, the governor has said after each of the past two sessions that he was finished fighting for slots. So it's hard to know if he won't be back soon calling for them again. That my ultimately be a political calculation.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any chance that the Medical Decision Making Act will make it through this session? If so, do you think that the governor would sign it?

Matthew A. Mosk: This is the bill that would enable those who are not married, but in committed partnerships, to register so they can make key medical decisions facing their loved one.

I think it's still quite likely that bill will pass today. The governor has not ruled out the possibility that he will sign it, which advocates for the bill take as a good sign.

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Columbia, Md.: It is important that elected officials hear from their constituents, especially on issues such as health care. We can all read newspapers and watch the decisions be made but we have to influence our elected officials to vote for those bills that benefit us. I'm a Health Care voter and I believe Fair Share Health Care is a step toward that direction. It levels the playing field for businesses in Maryland while looking out for the working class.

Any Feedback?

Matthew A. Mosk: There does appear to have been a substantial grass roots lobbying campaign to build legislative support for this bill. Unionized workers, in particular, were in Annapolis in large numbers to advocate for this bill.

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Rockville, Md.: House Bill 137 and cofiled Senate Bill 270 --
Have either of these passed through committee to go to the floor for a vote (Judiciary Committee/ Judicial Proceedings Committee)?

If not, what has impeded the movement of this critical bill -- through these committees?

Matthew A. Mosk: This bill would have made it a misdemeanor for a person to cause the death of another as a result of the person's driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle or vessel in a criminally negligent manner.

For whatever reason, it did not go very far this year, and has little chance of passing at this point.

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Chillum, Md.: What is the buzz within the Assembly regarding next year's race to fill the senate seat Paul Sarbanes will vacate? In particular, who are serious Republican contenders? Among Democrats who poses biggest threat to Kweisi Mfume?

Thanks.

Matthew A. Mosk: Most of the buzz is about who will compete for the seats opened up if Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin decide to run for U.S. Senate. A number of state lawmakers are thinking about runs for congress.

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Catonsville, Md.: I am also a Health Care Voter although not a union member. I think the Fair Share Health Care bill is a great first step to getting more workers covered by health insurance
I was interested in your earlier response.
The veto cannot be overridden today? It would have to wait until next year?

Matthew A. Mosk: My understanding is that there has not been a veto yet, so the legislators will have to wait.

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Rockville, Md.: Everyone says this session has been extremely partisan and embittered. To what extent do you think bitter feelings between the governor and legislative leaders actually hold up important bills, or is it mostly just theater?

Matthew A. Mosk: This question may be a good one to wrap up on...The answer is not an easy one. Much of the bitterness is theater. Quite a bit was accomplished this session. Already, they have passed an increase to the minimum wage, placed a constitutional amendment on the governor's land sale powers on the 2006 ballot, and passed a number of healthcare related measures aimed at providing more access to the poor and middle class.

The session is heating up, so I'm going to shove off. But I thank you for your questions.

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