Senate OKs early voting changes
A constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to open polls several days before an election received preliminary approval in the state Senate yesterday, after a Republican-proposed voter identification requirement failed.
The amendment has now passed the first of two votes required in each chamber. The bills in each chamber differ slightly. The Senate's version limits early voting to the two weeks before an election; the House of Delegates version contains no such limitation.
If the legislature gives final passage to the measure, voters would decide the question next year.
Republicans yesterday tried unsuccessfully to add a requirement that voters show identification at the polls to prevent election fraud. Democrats rejected the amendment, arguing that such details would be worked out in 2009, if voters approved the amendment.
A constitutional amendment requires the support of three-fifths of each chamber and is not subject to gubernatorial veto.
O'Malley issues executive orders
Gov. Martin O'Malley issued two executive orders yesterday, one of which created BayStat, a new state effort to analyze the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
The other order establishes a code of conduct for Executive Branch employees.
BayStat, modeled on the CityStat program that O'Malley launched as mayor of Baltimore, says the state will gather regular data about water quality, nutrient and sediment loads, biotic integrity and fisheries. The program will analyze the cost of efforts to enforce laws and regulations, preserve lands around the Bay and manage the impact of development, according to the governor's order.
A director of BayStat, which will be a joint project of the departments of Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources and Planning, has not been named.
O'Malley's order outlining the expected conduct of Executive Branch employees indicates that workers should "not engage in outside employment or activities ... which conflict with official government duties."
Employees should not hold conflicting financial interests, act impartially, or "give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual," the order says.
"All employees shall be treated with dignity and respect and shall not be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation," the order says.
Officials decry Real ID system
A Maryland driver's license would cost $195, up from $45, if the state complies with a federal order to establish a national ID system, according to a state senator who is fighting the plan.
Real ID, as the program is called, is meeting resistance from many state lawmakers who back a resolution asking Congress to repeal the act.
"They want the rest of us to implement it, and they want the state governments to pay for it," Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat co-sponsoring the resolution, testified yesterday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
"It's more like a godfather offer," he said. "It's an offer we can't refuse."
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, among others, support the resolution. They argue that a national database of drivers' licenses could prompt an identity theft problem. Proponents of the program tout it as a national security effort, a way to prevent illegal immigrants from getting U.S. documentation.
"Real ID is one more invaluable tool in the global War on Terror," Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties, said in a statement.
Opponents disagree. "The Real ID Act threatens Americans' privacy," said Jay Stanley, a spokesman for the Technology and Liberty Project of the ACLU.
Molly Ramsdell, a policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Real ID would cost the states $11 billion over five years.
Though Ramsdell said 23 states have introduced legislation to buck or implement the federal law, Maine is the only state so far to support a resolution refusing to abide.
'Clean cars' bill debated
The House of Delegates began debate yesterday on a bill that would toughen emissions standards on new cars, a top priority of environmental groups.
The so-called "clean cars" bill would require that new cars sold to Marylanders exceed federal emissions standards by model year 2011. Almost a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, have plans to require the tougher standards.
If approved, the bill would add about $1,000 to the cost of new cars sold in Maryland. Supporters say the tougher standards, first used by California, would clean the air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
Leading Democrats, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, have said Maryland should join the other states in setting tougher standards. In his State of the State address last month, O'Malley said, "By taking action, we can help children suffering with asthma. We can remove pollutants from the air and the bay. And we can join 11 other states in getting this done, this year."
Some lawmakers have questioned whether the bill would reduce choice in automobiles or require Maryland to switch to gas used in California. To assuage the worries, House members approved an amendment yesterday specifying that gasoline won't change.