By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed legislation yesterday giving the state tools to help keep the Preakness Stakes in Maryland, extending unemployment benefits to part-time workers and giving the Prince George's County Hospital Authority more time to find a private buyer for the county-owned hospital system.
The bills were among more than 150 signed by the governor in the first of a series of ceremonies planned in the aftermath of the annual 90-day legislative session that ended Monday night. Most higher-profile legislation, including bills tightening evidence standards in death penalty cases and providing additional protections for victims of domestic violence, will be signed later.
Flanked by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), O'Malley said the session would be remembered for lawmakers' commitment to the state's priorities despite the recession.
"We've never forgotten to protect the families of our state, particularly in tough times," he said.
The most notable bill signed yesterday authorizes the state to exercise eminent domain over Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and all rights associated with the Preakness and the race trophy, the Woodlawn Vase. The state also gave itself the authority to issue bonds to finance their purchase, with the goal of finding a private buyer later.
The bill emerged late in the session after the owner of the Preakness, Magna Entertainment, declared bankruptcy and prepared to auction its assets. The bill also gives the state the authority over other Magna assets, including the Laurel Park horse track in Anne Arundel, being sold in federal bankruptcy proceedings.
Another O'Malley priority signed yesterday would make people who had worked at least 20 hours a week eligible for unemployment benefits.
After the ceremony, O'Malley told reporters that he was pleased with his legislative record this session and vowed to bring back two bills that failed. One would give state regulators new tools to order utilities to build power plants, moving Maryland back in the direction of regulating its energy supply. The other would increase the state's powers to recover money it has paid on false Medicaid and other health-care claims.