The Maryland Senate probably won't muster the votes to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s vetoes of bills limiting university tuition increases and setting a "living wage" for state contractors, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday.
By contrast, Miller and fellow Democrats are expected to overturn the governor's veto of a medical malpractice bill in voting today. A supermajority of the House and Senate -- three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber -- is required to override.
Ehrlich pledged last week to give an additional $43 million to the state university system in his budget, and Miller said that promise should prove sufficient to prevent an override of a bill.
"I've already heard from a number of our members, and they think the juice isn't worth the squeeze," Miller said.
System officials said the new funding would allow them to limit the fall semester's tuition rise to 5.9 percent. The bill would hold tuition increases at 5 percent for three years, while increasing corporate taxes from 7 percent to 7.7 percent over the same period to provide more money for the system.
Miller said legislation to make Maryland the first in the nation with a statewide "living wage" law "sends a wrong message to the business community." It would establish a $10.50 hourly rate for employees working under state contracts.
A dominant power in the Senate, Miller is unmatched in building majorities and divining political meaning from votes, so his comments spell trouble for the two veto override efforts being pushed by many Democrats at a time of fractious relations between the executive and legislative branches. And they raise the prospect that the unusual override session will end reasonably well for the governor on some important issues.
In the Senate, 29 of 47 votes are required to overturn a veto and in the House, 85 of 141 votes.
The override session is being held today because lawmakers recessed their late-December special session on medical malpractice so they could consider the measures later.
The regular 90-day session begins tomorrow.
Some leading Democrats had hoped to overturn many of the 19 bills vetoed by the governor, presenting the two often-bickering chambers as a unified front against the executive branch.
Today's votes "will really crystallize the differences between Republicans and Democrats," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Two Democrats who could challenge Ehrlich when he seeks re-election also weighed in yesterday, urging lawmakers to enact the agenda they want despite the governor's objections.
"It has become clear over the past two years that the current administration has no real interest in getting things done," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan during a news conference yesterday in Annapolis on the overrides. "As a result, the General Assembly has taken the bull by the horns and filled this leadership vacuum."
Mayor Martin O'Malley wrote to city lawmakers, asking them to vote to pass the vetoed bills.
But the governor responded with his own lobbying effort. A spokeswoman for the governor, Shareese N. DeLeaver, said Ehrlich has been conducting "private meetings behind closed doors" with legislators to discuss the bills. She would not provide specifics.
University system advocates gathered in Annapolis yesterday to push their view that the governor's funding promise was a one-time fix that only partly restored money cut in the past two years.
"It's time to say enough is enough," said James C. Rosapepe, a system regent and founding member of Marylanders for Access to Quality Higher Education. The group said that just six states cut more from their university budget since 2002 than Maryland.
Supporters of the living wage bill released a poll yesterday showing 69 percent of Marylanders support the concept.
Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Maryland, the liberal advocacy group pushing the legislation, said the bill fits with Marylanders' desires for good schools and better education.
The best predictor of student performance on test scores, Hucker said, is the income level of parents.
"The most cost-effective way to respond to the public, and improve student performance, is to pass the living wage bill," he said.
Lawmakers also will consider overturning a veto on a bill that allows any member of the public to sue if a public body illegally conducts business behind closed doors.
The bill seeks to change a policy set by a judge ruling in a Howard County school board case. Only those "adversely affected" by a board decision have legal standing to bring suits, the judge determined. Ehrlich struck down the bill, saying it could lead to frivolous lawsuits.
Bill on CCOs
Also up for an override vote is a bill trying to place controls on a state plan to change the way it cares for about 75,000 elderly and disabled people.
The program, called Community Choice, would have the care managed by HMO-like Community Care Organizations. The CCOs would be paid a flat fee by the state and could care for patients in ways other than nursing homes, such as adult day care and visiting nurses. The state would need approval from the federal governmentto do this and is in the process of preparing an application.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat and principal author of the vetoed bill on Community Choice, said, "Community care is what the seniors prefer." She sponsored the bill to build in protections as the state designs its program.
Many e-mails claimed
Larry Simmons, executive director of a coalition of senior groups called Maryland Alliance for Senior Health, said his organization had generated thousands of e-mails to lawmakers in support of an override.
John Folkemer, deputy health secretary, said the Health Department is trying to build patient protections into its application but believes that the Hollinger bill included unnecessary provisions for nursing home operators.
Sun staff writers Jason Song, Sumathi Reddy and M. William Salganik contributed to this article.
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