Monday's scheduled City Council vote on a ban on smoking in Baltimore's bars and restaurants could tip the scale for or against a statewide prohibition, a priority for some lawmakers and lobbyists for the nation's leading health associations.

Four Maryland counties, including Prince George's and Montgomery, have enacted bans. But lawmakers representing tobacco farmers and the powerful restaurant association have in past years stalled action at the state level. A House of Delegates committee will take up legislation mandating a statewide ban in early March.

But action by the council could be the tipping point in the statewide debate. If the council approves a ban tomorrow, almost half the state's population will live in communities where they can't light up in restaurants or bars.

Council member Robert W. Curran, chief sponsor of the bill, said he thinks he has the eight votes he needs on the 15-member council for approval.

"I feel in my heart that I'm closer than I was," he said Friday. "If Baltimore comes back with a ban, we'll have a level playing field across the state for action in Annapolis."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.(R) had publicly opposed a ban. But new Gov. Martin O'Malley(D) has not decided whether he'd sign the bill if it got to his desk, spokesman Rick Abbruzzesesaid.

-- Lisa ReinSenate Approves Nine Cabinet PicksThe state Senate confirmed nine Cabinet members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration last week, including one of that chamber's former members: Gloria G. Lawlah(D) of Prince George's County as the secretary of aging. The Senate used the vote to pay homage to Lawlah, 67, who served 20 years in the General Assembly. She is the first former member of the General Assembly nominated to O'Malley's Cabinet.

Sen. P.J. Hogan(D-Montgomery) asked that Lawlah's name be set apart from the rest of the nominations so the vote could be taken separately.

"I have some concerns," Sen. Nancy Jacobs(R-Harford) said jokingly of Lawlah's nomination. "I don't think she is old enough to qualify for this position."

When the vote was called, several members in jest voted against her before they all switched their votes in favor of her nomination. Then they applauded.

David W. Edgerlyof Montgomery County was unanimously confirmed as secretary of business and economic development. Edgerly has led the county's Department of Economic Development since 1994.

Alvin C. Collins, who was chief of staff to former governor Parris N. Glendening(D), was approved as general services secretary, and Donald W. DeVorewas accepted as juvenile services secretary.

The other nominations approved by the Senate were: Roger Richardson as secretary of agriculture, Brenda Donald Walkeras head of the Department of Human Resources, Raymond A. Skinneras secretary of housing and community development, Gary D. Maynardas head of the corrections department and Catherine Raggioas secretary of the Department of Disabilities.

-- Ovetta WigginsSimms, Curran Urge End to Death PenaltyStuart O. Simms, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general, showed up last week to testify in favor of a repeal of the death penalty, as did the previous attorney general, J. Joseph Curran Jr.(D). This prompted state Sen. Alex X. Mooney(R-Frederick) to ask, "What does the attorney general think about the death penalty? I thought he supported the death penalty." Simms smiled and said he wasn't the one to answer the question. Many in the crowd laughed, providing one of the few light moments during an otherwise emotionally charged hearing.

Attorney General Douglas F.Gansler did not attend either hearing before the Senate or House committees last week. A spokeswoman for his office said Gansler "supports the death penalty for the most extreme cases where there is overwhelming evidence." Spokeswoman Raquel Guillorysaid Gansler believes the decision on whether to repeal the death penalty is "best left to the legislators." "As the state's chief lawyer, he will defend the state no matter the outcome," Guillory said.

-- Ovetta Wiggins