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Md. Senate Pushes Toward Compromise on Slots, but Busch Rebels

By Matthew Mosk
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page B04

The Maryland Senate yesterday formally declined to accept a limited slot machine gambling bill that narrowly passed the House of Delegates, hardening the legislative stalemate over Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most pressing initiative.

Separate versions of the governor's proposed gambling expansion have passed in each chamber of the General Assembly, but they are markedly different. The House's more modest proposal would place 9,500 machines at sites in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties. The Senate bill would permit 15,500 machines at seven locations, four of which would be horse tracks. The sites would be formally selected by a nine-member commission, a majority of whom would be appointed by Ehrlich.

By the Senate formally declining to accept a House-passed slots bill, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. hopes to move into negotiation work.
By the Senate formally declining to accept a House-passed slots bill, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. hopes to move into negotiation work.
By the Senate formally declining to accept a House-passed slots bill, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. hopes to move into negotiation work. (Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post)

_____Slot Machines_____
Lawmakers, Pastors Join Forces To Urge Rejection of Slots Bill (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
Anti-Slots Campaign Moves to Localities (The Washington Post, Mar 9, 2005)
Md. Pastors See Peril In Slots (The Washington Post, Mar 7, 2005)
Reports of Illegal Slots Probed in Pr. George's (The Washington Post, Mar 4, 2005)
More on Slot Machines

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the Senate's action was in hopeful anticipation of the two chambers' appointing members to a conference committee so the two versions can be shaped into a compromise bill.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has said repeatedly he will not join in such an effort, saying support for the House version was so fragile that any change to it would leave it without enough votes to pass.

Such an immovable position, Miller said, is not in keeping with a long tradition of legislative give-and-take.

"It's about trying to find a bill that works," Miller said. "There's a process that's been in place since Colonial times."

Pr. George's School Board

Prince George's County would have a nine-person elected school board under a measure approved yesterday by the county's House of Delegates members.

The county's 135,000-student school system is currently overseen by a board appointed by the governor and the county executive.

The measure passed yesterday has a strong chance of passing the full House, which usually defers to local delegation votes on local matters. Less clear is how the Senate would act.

"This is not a vote against the current board," Del. Dereck E. Davis (D) told the delegation yesterday. "They've done a tremendous job. They came in at a very difficult time."

Under current law, a board appointed in 2002 is scheduled to give way next year to an elected board. The law also stipulates countywide election of members. But the composition of that board remains a matter of debate. Del. Anne Healey (D) yesterday proposed an amendment to add two at-large members to the bill's proposed nine-member board, but it was defeated.

The measure approved yesterday also would create a task force to study how to draw up the districts of elected board members. Some lawmakers favor districts that conform to County Council districts.

The measure calls for school board elections in 2006.

Violent Video Games

The House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly killed a proposed ban on the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors.

The 17 to 4 vote Thursday night came after lawmakers expressed concern that a law banning the video games would run afoul of the First Amendment.

The bill would have made selling sexually explicit or violent video games to people younger than 18 a misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Similar bans are pending in the District and before state legislatures across the nation, including those of California, Washington, Georgia and Alabama. The increasingly realistic graphics and overwhelming popularity of such violent games as "Halo" and "Grand Theft Auto" have concerned consumer groups and law enforcement officials, who say that the games may be contributing to violence by minors.

Staff writer David Snyder contributed to this report.

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