Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malleyplans to meet behind closed doors this morning with leaders of the General Assembly to discuss the state's budget outlook.
Aides to O'Malley (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch(D-Anne Arundel) were bracing yesterday for a renewed push by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.(D-Calvert) to legalize slot machine gambling and consider an increase in the gas tax. O'Malley and Busch have advocated putting off decisions about looming billion-dollar budget deficits until next year, to give new legislators and the public a better understanding of what they will be confronting.
In a brief interview yesterday, Miller said important fiscal issues need airing. But he declined to say what he is up to or to confirm rumblings in the State House that he might introduce slots legislation.
O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said the administration is not interested in another debate about slots right now. "We're not interested in replaying the mistakes of the past few years," Kearney said. "We'll make progress by first building consensus."
-- John WagnerSenate Approves Bill to Allow Prior Sex-Abuse EvidenceThe Senate passed a measure yesterday that would make it easier for prosecutors to admit evidence of prior acts of sexual abuse involving minors into the trials of people accused of sexual misconduct. The bill would allow a judge to decide by "clear and convincing evidence" whether a jury should hear the additional evidence. A mini-trial could be called before or during the trial. Lawmakers spent three days in heated debate about the rights of victims and the accused before the legislation was approved in a 27 to 20 vote yesterday.
"How many kids does a pedophile get to molest before we let the jury in on the secret?" Sen. Brian E. Frosh(D-Montgomery) asked the Senate during last week's debate.
But Sen. Robert A. Zirkin(D-Baltimore County) said that the bill could "put people into jail who are innocent."
-- Ovetta WigginsProposed Ban on Assault Weapons Revived in SenateSupporters of a proposed statewide ban on assault-style weapons in Maryland revived their bill yesterday at a standing-room-only hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The legislation is sponsored this year by freshman Sen. Michael G. Lenett(D-Montgomery). Rifles and the 45 weapons the bill seeks to ban "are remarkably well-suited to killing a lot of people in a hurry," Lenett said.
But gun advocates mounted vigorous opposition. Craig Fitzpatrick of Columbia said the proposal targets "law-abiding citizens more than violent criminals."
Efforts to enact a ban in Maryland after a federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 have failed in past years. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he would sign a ban. The vote in the 11-member committee, however, is expected to be close.
-- Lisa ReinRestaurants, Supermarkets Oppose Ban on Trans FatsA bill that would ban Maryland restaurants from serving food cooked with trans fats brought the giants of the fast-food and supermarket industries to a hearing yesterday to oppose it. Del. James W. Hubbard(D-Prince George's) modeled his legislation on a ban that New York health officials approved last year for the city's eateries. He predicted that Maryland, by cutting down on the most dangerous fats in the modern diet, could prevent hundreds of deaths and illness from cardiovascular disease.
But restaurateurs testified that this is not the time to change frying oils and find new shortenings because, at the moment, the market isn't producing enough alternatives. Among those voicing opposition were representatives for Safeway and McDonald's.
-- Lisa ReinState Won't Sell Baltimore's World Trade CenterGov. Martin O'Malley's administration has scrapped the plans of his Republican predecessor to sell the state-owned World Trade Center in Baltimore. Efforts by the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.(R) to sell the 30-story tower were criticized by some lawmakers last year.
Transportation Secretary John D. Porcarisaid yesterday that a new review found that "the right thing to do is to hold on to the building, market it properly and ensure it remains a vibrant part of Baltimore."
-- John Wagner