Maryland Legislature Is On Track to Pass Much of O'Malley's Agenda

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Maryland legislature could be summoned back to Annapolis for a special session on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants if it does not reach an agreement on the thorny issue, Gov. Martin O'Malley said, although he expressed optimism that a deal will be struck before the annual 90-day session ends tomorrow.

In a wide-ranging interview, O'Malley (D) also blamed the fate of a bill on energy regulation that died last night on "a tremendous amount of nervousness" about the complex issue and acknowledged that he is not likely to succeed in repealing the death penalty before standing for reelection next year. O'Malley is instead preparing to sign a compromise bill sent to him by lawmakers that tightens evidence rules for capital cases.

"After three years of deliberation and debate on this . . . I think this issue is resolved, certainly for this term," he said.

O'Malley's assessments came in the waning days of a session in which much of his agenda is on track for passage, with a few exceptions, most notably a repeal of the death penalty and the energy bill.

Lawmakers have agreed to extend unemployment benefits to part-time workers. They made it easier to confiscate firearms from domestic violence suspects. And they have authorized the use of speed cameras in school zones and work zones.

The legislature is also on track to pass a series of growth-management measures sought by O'Malley as well as a series of bills, after some changes, that tighten restrictions on drunken drivers and teen drivers. And despite a very tough budget year, lawmakers agreed to set aside funds to allow a tuition freeze again next year at public universities. The final say on that rests with university regents.

Much of the remaining drama in the session centers on an issue that has not been at the forefront of O'Malley's agenda: legislation requiring drivers to prove they are in the country legally in order to comply with the federal security law known as Real ID. Maryland is one of four states that offer licenses to undocumented residents.

Senior House and Senate members scrambled behind the scenes yesterday to reach a compromise on competing plans to end that practice.

The House bill would allow undocumented residents to keep their licenses and renew them for a driving permit that would deny them access to federal buildings or commercial planes but would shut the door June 1 to those seeking new licenses.

The more conservative Senate legislation would not grandfather in what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of undocumented residents with licenses.

O'Malley said that if the chambers do not resolve their differences, they would probably have to come back in coming months to try again. But, he said, "I'm confident that House and Senate leaders will resolve the lawful-presence issue before the session ends."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said yesterday that they remain hopeful the issue will be resolved by tomorrow.

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