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O'Malley's bills bite the dust

Maryland's 90-day General Assembly session is fast coming to a close.

Next Monday at midnight, Baltimore County's delegates and senators remove their legislative capes, stash them in a closet and get back to earning a living and leading more normal lives back home.

Until then, their days will be long, hectic and strenuous. The fate of hundreds of well-intended bills hang in the balance.

One person who could use some luck in the closing days is Gov. Martin O'Malley. A number of his proposals have been seriously diluted or put on the slow track.

His big environmental bill to outlaw most new septic systems has been so weakened it won't have much impact.

His plan to charge large water consumers higher fees than the rest of us to upgrade sewage treatment plants bit the dust. Instead, everyone will pay the same, higher "flush tax."

His off-shore wind plan has been reduced in scale and made less burdensome for households. It might not survive the legislature's final days.

His public-private partnership bill has run into controversy over amendments his friends tacked on that would make the bill retroactive and give certain developers special rights in court.

His budget-balancing tax plans have been rewritten by the Senate and greatly altered by the House.

And the governor's once highly touted gas-tax proposal (tacking on a six-percent sales tax) is unlikely to get very far.

Meanwhile, O'Malley has been busy elsewhere.

Instead of pressing lawmakers to pass his bills, the governor played with his Irish rock band at the White House, attended a reception for the Irish prime minister on Capitol Hill, appeared on an early morning national TV news show and spoke at a political fund-raiser in Connecticut.

All this extracurricular activity might help O'Malley's campaign for national office but it did nothing to salvage his endangered bills.

When the dust settles after Monday night's adjournment, the governor still may take credit for any and all progressive bills passed by the General Assembly.

He will probably claim his watered-down bills are great steps forward. He wants to present himself as a future leader of the Democratic Party.

That could be difficult if he continues to ignore what's happening in his own state.

As many as three of his initiatives could wind up on the November ballot as referendum questions. Given voter anger toward political officeholders, all of the referendums could pass.

Rejection of those issues - gay marriage, in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, and redistricting - could hurt O'Malley's image among national Democrats.

So he may have to stick closer to home as November approaches. He could be very active campaigning not just for the president's reelection but for the defeat of the referendum challenges. He's got much to lose, even if his name won't be on the ballot.

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