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House Votes to Increase Bond Funding for Connector

By David Snyder
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B04

The House of Delegates approved a measure yesterday to increase bond funding for a proposed highway connecting Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- but not as much as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has pushed for.

The bill would allow the state to sell $750 million in bonds for the intercounty connector, which is estimated to cost $2.4 billion. Legislation last year capped the use of the relatively new kind of bond, called a Garvee bond, at $635 million. Ehrlich has argued that the state should use $1 billion in the bonds.

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A study released in February by the General Assembly's analysis arm said paying for the connector largely with bonds would add at least $500 million to the project and could tie up nearly a quarter of the federal highway dollars the state receives.

Garvee bonds pledge future federal highway dollars to repay the debt. Additional bond money would be paid off with toll revenue from the connector and other Maryland Transportation Authority facilities.

"Whether we support the ICC or we oppose it, there are significant concerns about funding mechanisms in this bill," said Del. Adrienne A. Mandel (D-Montgomery), who voted against the funding measure.

Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), the bill's lead sponsor, called its passage "vitally important," saying it creates a "viable plan that we can demonstrate we have the ability to fund" the road project.

The six-lane highway would run 18 miles between Interstate 270 and Interstate 95, five to eight miles beyond the Capital Beltway. It is touted by supporters as a long-overdue link between Montgomery and Prince George's that would help relieve Capital Beltway tie-ups. Opponents say the road would cut through environmentally sensitive areas and would be more expensive than it was worth.

House Passes Bill on Fetus Deaths

The deliberate killing of a fetus that could survive outside the mother's womb would be grounds for a murder prosecution under a measure the House approved yesterday.

The bill, which the Senate has not yet considered, would not affect a woman's ability to have an abortion or a doctor's ability to perform one.

Some abortion opponents said they were uneasy about voting in favor of the bill because it applies only to fetuses that could survive on their own. "This is a difficult vote in a lot of ways," Del. Paul S. Stull (R-Frederick) said, "because I believe life begins at conception. . . . I'm voting for this bill because we're all familiar with the Laci Peterson case, and this would hopefully prevent such a thing."

At the same time, the bill gave pause to some lawmakers who support abortion rights. They said it sets a dangerous precedent in establishing the intentional death of a fetus as a crime. Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) said she worried the bill would be "the beginning of an erosion to Roe v. Wade," the Supreme Court decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion. "The courts could take the language [of the bill] and take it one step further," she said.

The number of prosecutions under such a law likely would be low, legislative analysts said, because the law is so narrowly drawn it would apply to only a few cases. The bill passed 108 to 20.

House Backs End to Gambling Ban

The House voted 86 to 39 yesterday to repeal a seven-year-old ban that forbids charitable groups in Prince George's County to use casino-style gambling to raise money.

If it passes the Senate and is signed by the governor, the bill would put Prince George's back on the list of counties in Maryland that allow limited gambling events at firehouses and social halls. Under the terms of the bill, 20 percent of the proceeds would be directed to the county to pay for education, and all gaming activity would have to be monitored by local sheriffs' officials.

Opponents in the House argued that it would be hypocritical for Prince George's delegates to support any gambling in their county after they voted in large numbers against legalizing slot machines.

Steve Novak, president of the Crescent Cities Jaycees Foundation, said he was pleased to see the measure pass but said it will have a tough time in the Senate, where it has died in the past three years.

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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