A productive 90 days for the bill-slayers


ACCORDING TO former Gov. Marvin Mandel, the story of a legislative session isn't what bills pass but what bills are killed. By that measure, the top leaders in Annapolis just had an extraordinarily productive year.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch came out of the session 0-for-5 on bills he sponsored, including proposals to increase penalties for assaulting a police officer and establish procedures for counting provisional ballots.

A proposed property tax cut, another Busch initiative, also died in the Senate.

The killing of House Bill 1, which would prevent limited liability companies from avoiding transfer taxes when they sell property, has become something of a rite of spring in Annapolis. Busch has proposed the same thing for the past three years, only to see it die in the Senate.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. fared better, posting a 12-for-19 record on his agenda this year, not counting his budget proposal, which the legislature had no choice but to pass.

He got research-and-development tax credits, enhanced lead-paint enforcement, restrictions on teen drivers and incentives for film production companies to work in Maryland.

But the governor's .632 batting average belies some crucial whiffs on top items on his agenda, including medical malpractice reforms and slot machine gambling. Instead of passing his bill to make the Office of Children, Youth and Families a Cabinet-level agency, the legislature dismembered it.

And his plan to give tax credits to military veterans was apparently the casualty of a struggle over which party would get credit for the initiative.

The biggest victory was on witness intimidation, but it came at a cost. By accepting the amendments that made the bill palatable to the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Ehrlich lost the support of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, a valuable ally from the home turf of his rival, Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's scorecard is difficult to assess because the Senate president does not typically unveil an agenda, and the list of bills he sponsors gives little sense of the issues he's working hardest on.

For example, he wasn't the primary sponsor of a bill changing appointments to the state Board of Elections and making it more difficult for the board to fire the elections administrator. But Miller, who was incensed at the board's effort to fire administrator Linda H. Lamone last year, wielded his influence to get the bill passed and to override the governor's veto.

Miller was a primary sponsor of bills to allow early voting and to increase the minimum wage, both of which passed.

His perennial top priority, slots, failed again. He also failed to win passage for a measure moving the date of the Democratic primary from September 2006 to June of that year.

But no doubt his biggest disappointment is the failure for the second year in a row of his "Fear the Turtle" bill, which would direct the state to start making terrapin-inspired license plates to fund scholarships at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Ruppersberger's exit may clear path for Cardin

Many see the departure of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger from the race to replace Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes as yet more confirmation that Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is all but sure to run. The thinking is that the two of them share the same base so that if they both ran, neither would win.

The timing of Ruppersberger's announcement provided some clue of how true that is. Ruppersberger announced his exit from the race just after the first full day of interviews for the latest Sun Poll. By that point, the pollsters had talked to 30 people who said they would support Ruppersberger in the primary.

Although 30 is by no means a scientific sample, the results when pollsters called the Ruppersberger supporters back were illuminating: 20 of them switched to support Cardin, five said they would vote for former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, and the rest said they were undecided.

Decision time draws near for lieutenant governor

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele says he's getting closer to deciding whether to get in the Senate race, but he apparently hasn't worked out all the logistics yet.

In his biweekly radio show on WBAL on Saturday, Steele said he wasn't sure whether he would be able to stay in his current job while running for Senate or if a run for Congress would preclude him from also running for lieutenant governor.

"That's exactly what we're looking at, how that shakes out," Steele said. "The short answer is, I don't really know how that works."

For the record, no law requires a public official to step down before running for another job, and Stateline with the Lieutenant Governor host Bruce Elliott was correct in saying Steele could not run for both jobs simultaneously. Unlike in some states, the law in Maryland prohibits a candidate from running for two offices in the same election.

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