STATE GOVERNMENT

Compromises Play Key Role in O'Malley Legislative Wins

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

By the time the confetti fell at the close of Maryland's 90-day legislative session Monday night, Gov. Martin O'Malley had racked up far more wins than losses. But some of those victories arguably should be recorded with asterisks.

O'Malley (D) pushed through a bill to expand the collection of DNA samples from suspected criminals. But he succeeded only after agreeing to several compromises, including one that will allow the legislation to expire in five years if it is not renewed.

Lawmakers sent O'Malley a bill he had sought tightening restrictions on shoreline development, but only after they scaled back a buffer zone he proposed by one-third. And O'Malley was successful in his bid to create a Department of Information Technology, but only after lawmakers insisted that he revise the bill so that the new Cabinet agency does not cost taxpayers additional money.

Almost 15 months into office, O'Malley has shown a flexibility in dealing with the Democratic-led legislature that often eluded his Republican predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"He puts something out there realizing it's not necessarily the ultimate answer," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, which handled several of the governor's bills, including one to implement a settlement providing $2 billion in rate relief to customers of the state's largest electricity provider.

O'Malley's willingness to compromise does not always guarantee success. His bill to expand the use of speed cameras statewide unexpectedly died Monday night as lawmakers raced toward their midnight adjournment. And an O'Malley-backed bill to curb greenhouse gases collapsed on the session's final day even after it had been watered down.

But by and large, lawmakers say, the governor's flexibility helped him advance an agenda that included some of the country's most ambitious mortgage industry reforms and a package of energy conservation measures, some of which O'Malley highlighted yesterday at the first in a series of bill-signing ceremonies.

Among the 111 bills O'Malley signed was legislation repealing the state's new tax on computer services. The bill languished until the final days of the session, when O'Malley brokered a compromise to compensate for the lost revenue with a surcharge on the income of millionaires and cuts to transportation projects and state agencies.

"He's got a personality where he reaches out to people and says: 'This is a team effort. Help me get the job done,' " Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said. "As a consequence, people want to help him."

By all accounts, the atmosphere was far less collegial during Ehrlich's administration, when Democratic leaders and the GOP governor sometimes found themselves at odds over common objectives. Ehrlich, for example, called a special session on rising medical malpractice rates for doctors, then vetoed the bill produced by the legislature.

Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) said Democratic leaders engaged in a "24-7 attempt" to embarrass Ehrlich, making cooperation difficult. What appears to be compromise by O'Malley, Kittleman said, is often a realization by the governor that he is overreaching.

"I think it is the legislature saying you can't go that far, even in the liberal Maryland legislature," Kittleman said.


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