Nitkin: It's a little tricky. If you go to mlis.state.md.us, you can look up any bill by number, sponsor or topic, but it takes a little practice to get the hand of the Web site. You can look on the bill to check its status -- such as when committee hearings are held. Votes on the floor of the House and Senate are available on the Web site about a day or two after they take place. Committee votes are not recorded electronically, which is a major disservice to you and the rest of the public.

Nancy Marbach, Cambridge: How do I reach Sen. [James] Brochin?

Nitkin: Try 410-841-3648. His Annapolis office is Room 221 in the James Senate Office Building, and his district office is 305 Washington Ave., Suite 406, Towson, Md., 21204.

Slots
Les, Baltimore: As far as [a] slots bill not [being] passed by the House, I believe [Speaker] Michael [E.] Busch was the one who wanted other, off-site [gambling] added to [the] bill. So, when the governor does this to bridge the gap, it still is rejected by the House. Why has that not been reported? It look[s] like only Gov. Ehrlich is getting all the blame for adding off-track sites. I do not believe that is fair at all. Maybe we should also look at the House speaker as well.

Nitkin: You are correct that Busch was the chief proponent of putting slot machines at state-owned locations along interstate highways if they were going to be legalized. He does not want [horse] track owners receiving a windfall. In a revised version of his slots plan, the governor proposed both track and non-track locations. All of this has been thoroughly reported.

The governor went part-way to bridge a gap, but the speaker still had concerns. No one I know is "blaming" the governor for adding off-track locations. We've thoroughly examined the speaker and his motives in the slots debate.

Phil, Rosedale: In your opinion, if the General Assembly came to agreement on how slots revenue should be distributed, would the bill pass?

Nitkin: In my opinion, a slots bill will not pass this year. There are many other sticking points than the distribution of revenue, including locations, number of machines and how licenses are awarded. If Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is elected governor in 2006, slots won't pass for at least four years. Slots become much more likely in 2007 if Ehrlich wins re-election, or if [Baltimore] Mayor Martin O'Malley wins the race.

Same-sex marriage
Stuart, Baltimore: Why won't the Democrats allow the people of Maryland to vote on whether or not gay marriage should be allowed in the state of Maryland?

Nitkin: For voters to decide on a constitutional amendment on gay marriage, both the House and Senate -- controlled by Democrats -- must approve the amendment by a three-fifths majority. Democratic leaders say there is no need for a constitutional amendment right now. In January, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge decided that Maryland's statutory definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional, but the decision is on appeal.

Democrats say the appeals process should play out before the constitution is amended. But the reality is that Democrats don't want the issue on the ballot in an election year, because it would doubtless draw large numbers of socially conservative voters to the polls.

Amy, Hampstead: In all the press coverage concerning this "marriage issue," I don't remember seeing [O'Malley's gubernatorial running mate] Del. Anthony [G.] Brown's opinion. Did he have a chance to express his views?

Nitkin: Well, we didn't get any press releases from Brown outlining where he stands on gay marriage. I'm not sure if we ever sought out his opinion. We probably should get Brown's views on the record at some point.

Geoff S., Baltimore: I had always thought the proper argument for gay marriage was that two adults above legal age should be able to wed regardless of sex. But, if my gay marriage amendment read as I have written, consenting siblings and polygamous couples could interpret that they could also marry under the bill. How would the state legislature, if it's an issue at all, make gay marriage available to couples without opening up a big 'ole can of worms? What's the language behind an amendment like that?

Nitkin: The amendment under discussion in Annapolis would make same-sex marriage illegal, not legal. I really can't answer your question, because we haven't examined the issue of how to make gay marriage legal. I suppose the best way would be to ask a judge to decide that Maryland's current prohibition on same sex marriage (which is in [a] statute but not in the constitution) was unconstitutional, and then for lawmakers to do nothing if that's what a judge decides. I'm no expert, but I've got to imagine that there are already enough prohibitions out there somewhere that prevent "consenting siblings" from marrying, regardless of sex.

O'Malley
Ryan, Baltimore: I live in Baltimore and I love city life. However, I am getting sick and tired of people who don't live in the city saying how bad it is. Yes, the murder rate is high. You just can't wave a magic wand and make this go away. Eventually, people have to take responsibility for their own actions.

If you look at the statistics, the only people who are likely to get murdered are in the drug game in some fashion. People buying or people selling. Think about it ... how can O'Malley keep two drug dealers from killing each other? All the police in the world can't stop someone if they're determined to seek revenge! Stop blaming Martin for something that is out of his control.