Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley offered his help in passing a bill legalizing slot machine gambling during a meeting this week with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats said yesterday.
"I'd sure like to get this issue behind us," O'Malley said in an interview.
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O'Malley said his position on the issue has not changed: He remains open to "a reasonable compromise" that would place slots at race tracks but not make the state dependent on the revenue generated by the machines.
O'Malley said he considers slots "a pretty morally bankrupt way" to fund education, which bills pending in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly call for.
Still, O'Malley said he told Miller that he stands ready to help reach a compromise this year so that the state can focus its attention on other issues.
Miller (Calvert) said his meeting with the mayor was "very positive. . . . He's a very pragmatic elected official who seeks to serve his city as well as the state of Maryland."
O'Malley's stance is at odds with that of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely rival in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. In recent days, Duncan has urged lawmakers to vote against a slots bill.
He said yesterday that O'Malley is naive in thinking the debate over slot machines will end if a bill is approved this year.
"Once you bring it in, the debate starts over where you expand it," Duncan said. "I don't want the future of our children's education tied to how many people we can get to gamble."
Preservation Land Sales
A Senate committee chairman said yesterday that she expects an initiative barring Maryland's governor from selling state conservation land without legislative approval to make it to the Senate floor with no major alterations.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County), who heads the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, also said several bills aimed at curbing the governor's power in selling preservation land probably would be condensed into a single bill.
The panel heard testimony yesterday on three bills -- and a constitutional amendment -- designed to limit land sales.
The issue arose last year after an aborted plan to sell 836 acres of preservation land in St. Mary's County to a wealthy construction executive with political ties to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The plan outraged environmentalists and others, and Democrats vowed to curtail the governor's land-selling power.
An Ehrlich spokesman has described the measures as unnecessary and as "anti-Ehrlich politics at work." Representatives from several state agencies said yesterday that the measures would encumber the state's ability to conduct even minor real estate transactions.
The intimidation of witnesses would become a felony punishable by 20 years in jail under a measure heard by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.
The legislation is one of several bills introduced this year that aim to cut down on what prosecutors say is the growing problem of witnesses being scared out of testifying at trial.
Another measure heard yesterday would allow into court some written testimony without requiring that the witness be physically present. Defense attorneys have objected to the measure, saying that the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the accused can confront their accuser.
Under current law, witness intimidation is a misdemeanor.
Staff writer David Snyder contributed to this report.