O'Malley Backs Md. 'Clean Car' Initiative

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gov. Martin O'Malley embraced legislation yesterday to reduce automobile emissions in Maryland, part of a first-session legislative package that would also freeze tuition at public universities next year and mandate millions of additional school dollars to Prince George's and Montgomery counties in future years.

The bills are part of what aides described as a tightly focused package that O'Malley (D) will push during a 90-day session in which he is eager to chalk up early victories. Other measures seek to help replenish the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay, accelerate preparations for an influx of jobs from the military's base-realignment process and expand access to subsidized health insurance.

O'Malley's agenda was also noteworthy for what it did not include, such as a bill legalizing slot machine gambling. O'Malley supports that initiative, which proved highly divisive early in the tenure of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

"The package I've seen shows he wants to govern from the middle," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).

O'Malley is also poised this morning to announce two more Cabinet nominees, including former Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez as his secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, according to several people familiar with the picks. Perez, whose candidacy for attorney general was cut short last year by a court ruling that he was ineligible for the post, would become the first Hispanic that O'Malley has nominated.

O'Malley will also nominate James E. Lyons Sr., president of California State University at Dominguez Hills, as his secretary of higher education. Lyons served as president of Maryland's Bowie State University from 1983 to 1992.

O'Malley's announcement supporting "clean car" legislation added significant momentum to an initiative that would make Maryland the latest state to join California in adopting tighter emissions standards than the federal government requires. He did not identify that bill as a priority during his campaign.

Under the proposal, all new cars and trucks registered in the state would have to comply with the standards within several years, and car dealers would have to sell a certain percentage of low-emission vehicles.

Similar legislation has stalled in the legislature in recent years in the face of opposition from car dealers and manufacturers.

Several lawmakers suggested that the bill's passage would also quickly signal the ability of O'Malley and the Democratic-majority legislature to work together after four years of sharply divided government under Ehrlich.

"This is a shared priority," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

Miller said passage of the bill "is not a done deal, by any stretch of the imagination," but he said the onus will be on automobile dealers and manufacturers to show why the legislation would pose an undue burden. "If they don't make their case, and frankly they haven't yet, this bill is going to pass and pass overwhelmingly."

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