2005 Maryland Legislative Preview
Where the Lawmakers Meet: The General Assembly meets annually in Annapolis in the historic State House, the oldest capitol building in continuous legislative use. After the Revolutionary War, the city was the first peacetime capital of the United States. It was there that Gen. George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army and that the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the war.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is a Republican, the first elected to the Maryland governor's office in more than 30 years. Despite his popularity statewide, Ehrlich has had trouble pushing key initiatives through the Democratic-controlled legislature in the past two sessions. This year could prove pivotal as he prepares for a reelection bid in 2006.
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) will serve his 18th year as Senate president. He presides over 33 Democrats and 14 Republicans.
Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) will serve his third year as speaker of the House of Delegates, which has 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans.
Budget: Ehrlich and the legislature face a projected $300 million gap between revenue and expenditures for the budget year that begins in July. Advocates fear social programs could bear the brunt of any cuts.
Slots: For the third straight year, lawmakers will consider whether to legalize slot machine gambling, a move that could bring the state some new revenue but also some old social woes.
Education: Ehrlich has promised to provide full funding for an education aid formula that eventually would pump $1.3 billion annually into public schools. And he has pledged more money for higher education.
School construction: Lawmakers will urge Ehrlich to begin issuing bonds to build and renovate school buildings.
Medical malpractice: Dissatisfied with the bill crafted in a special session, Ehrlich has vowed to seek more limits to lawsuits filed against doctors .
Witness intimidation: Ehrlich will submit bills to make witness intimidation a felony and to allow some hearsay testimony when witnesses do not appear .
Teen drivers: Lawmakers are introducing bills that would forbid new drivers to use cell phones or carry most passengers.
Land sales: Angry over a bid to sell off state preservation land, some lawmakers want to limit the governor's power in such sales.
Minimum wage: Democratic leaders will push for an increase in the minimum wage, now at $5.15.
Same-sex marriage: For the second year, the legislature will consider a constitutional amendment against such unions.
Stem cell research: Bills from two lawmakers would encourage such research in Maryland .
What to Watch For
• Will acrimony following a holiday special session thwart Ehrlich's effort to win support for his priorities in the General Assembly?
• Will the decision by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos's family to purchase Rosecroft Raceway provide the political pull needed to win the legislature's support for slot machine gambling?
• Will the spate of teen deaths on Montgomery County roads in the fall provide the impetus to pass legislation restricting teen drivers?
This year's legislative delegation from the Washington region includes three newcomers. In the Senate, Howard County Republican Allan Kittleman replaces his father, Robert, who died in September of leukemia. In the House, Calvert County Democrat Sue Kullen replaces George W. Owings III, who was appointed secretary of veterans affairs in the Ehrlich administration. In Charles County, Democratic Del. Murray D. Levy replaces Van T. Mitchell, who became deputy secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. A third Southern Maryland delegate, Republican W. Louis Hennessy, was nominated last week to be a District Court judge in Charles County, a post he could assume in February.