The Maryland Senate yesterday approved legislation that would allow voters to decide whether to open polling stations up to two weeks in advance of Election Day in 2010.

The bill, which is sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.(D-Calvert) and has the support of Gov. Martin O'Malley(D), passed, 31 to 16. Two Democrats joined all 14 Republican members of the chamber in opposing the legislation.

The House of Delegates passed a slightly different version of the bill last week. Differences are likely to be reconciled before the 90-day session ends.

Under both versions, voters would decide in 2008 whether to amend the state constitution to allow early voting, a practice allowed in 37 states.

Last year, weeks before the September primary, Maryland courts struck down an early voting law, calling it unconstitutional.

With Senate passage certain, floor debate yesterday was limited.

Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittlemansaid Republicans are not opposed to the concept of early voting. But he argued that the bill leaves open the possibility that people could vote without identification in counties in which they do not reside. "We're going to have people running around, grabbing people from shopping centers" to vote, Kittleman said.

Democrats suggested his concerns were overblown.

-- John WagnerHouse Weighs O'Malley-Backed Wage BillDebate began in the Maryland House yesterday over legislation that would require state contractors to pay their employees a "living wage." During a House Economic Matters committee hearing, an official from the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) pledged that the new governor is on board with the bill, which supporters say would help lift thousands of families out of poverty.

"I'm here to tell you in no uncertain terms . . . the governor will sign it with enthusiasm," said Tom Perez, secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.(R) vetoed a similar bill in 2004, suggesting that it would drive up the cost of state contracts.

The current version of the bill, sponsored by Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Montgomery), would require an initial wage of $11.95 an hour for companies with state contracts exceeding $100,000.

In 1994, Baltimore became the first jurisdiction in the country to enact a living wage law. Since then, more than 120 localities, including Montgomery and Prince George's counties, have adopted such measures.

There are no statewide living wage laws, but bills are pending in eight legislatures, according to Maryland analysts.

Some lawmakers yesterday questioned whether the same wage should be required in all Maryland localities, given cost-of-living differences.

-- John WagnerRevenue Outlook Perks Up for Fiscal '07Maryland lawmakers are looking at billion-dollar deficits for years to come, but got one piece of good news this week: Revenue collection estimates for the current fiscal year have improved somewhat. Legislative analysts said yesterday that it seems less likely that state officials will "write down" revenue estimates next month, which would force some immediate budget cuts.

Income tax collections have picked up significantly, and sales tax collections are not as sluggish as a month ago, analysts said.

-- John WagnerIllegal Immigrants' Tuition Rate DebatedA Prince George's County delegate yesterday urged fellow lawmakers to support his legislation allowing illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at community colleges and state universities. Elementary and high schools are required to accept children of undocumented immigrants, said Del. Victor R. Ramirez(D), adding that most of these students have lived in the country for years and deserve an opportunity to further their education.

"It's tough enough for these kids," Ramirez said after the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the bill. "They don't qualify for financial aid."

A similar measure was passed by the General Assembly four years ago, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) vetoed it.

The measure, supported by the University of Maryland system and the state's community colleges, would cost an estimated $355,000 in 2010, increasing to $1.1 million in 2012, according to a legislative analysis.

-- Ovetta Wiggins