Senate passes cell phone bill
The Senate approved a bill that would ban using a cell phone while driving, though it would let motorists keep chatting on the road by using headsets or other hands-free communications devices.
The vote on the much-debated legislation, which would also bar text-messaging while driving, was 26 to 21.
Proponents cited research showing that cell phone use while driving increases the chances of having an accident, but some senators also recounted personal tales of near- and not-so-near misses.
"Actually I did tap a car once, because I wasn't paying attention, and I had the phone, dialing it in my hand," said Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican from the upper Eastern Shore, denounced the cell phone ban as a particular hardship for rural residents and "part of the nanny state that's evolving here today."
Opponents also said banning cell phones while driving was misguided because the real problem was any kind of driver distraction, including listening to music or talking to passengers.
Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a Democrat from Montgomery County, pointed out that several studies have found that drivers using hands-free devices were just as likely to get into an accident as those holding their phones to their ears.
"It's the conversation, not the phone itself," she said.
The measure now goes to the House, where a similar bill died in committee last year.
Green construction requirement passes
The House of Delegates voted yesterday to require green design and materials in construction of government buildings.
The bill, which was approved overwhelmingly, calls for use of energy- and resource-efficient building techniques, such as compact fluorescent lamps and water-saving fixtures in all newly constructed or significantly renovated state buildings, as well as in school projects financed in part by the state.
In the House, the O'Malley administration's green building bill passed by a vote of 135 to 1, with Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the GOP leader, the lone dissenter. O'Donnell, from Southern Maryland, said the state can ill afford higher construction costs, which have already been on the rise because of building material and fuel prices, as it struggles with budget shortfalls.
Proponents, however, say the environmentally friendly designs more than pay for themselves within a few years through energy savings.
Under the measures, state buildings and school projects must achieve the third-highest rating of the U.S. Green Building Council, or an equivalent ranking by any comparable rating system. Unoccupied buildings, including warehouses and garages, would be exempt.
The new standards would apply to school projects underwritten with state funds that begin design after July 1, 2009.
Tim Wheeler and Laura Smitherman .
Delegates approve $31 billion budget
The Maryland House of Delegates approved a $31 billion budget for the state yesterday, amid Republican protests that the plan is contingent on tax increases and doesn't show fiscal restraint.
The Democratic-controlled chamber voted 105 to 34 yesterday for the budget legislation, setting the stage for negotiations with the Senate on a final bill.
The House plan includes about $345 million in spending reductions from Gov. Martin O'Malleys budget proposal, or $30 million more than the Senate has trimmed from its version.
Several lawmakers said O'Malley should have cut more from the budget instead of pushing for $1.3 billion in tax increases that were approved during a special session late last year. They warned that the weakening economy is likely to require more cuts. "My constituents say it's time for government to live within its means," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Western Maryland Republican and the minority whip. "We have economic storm clouds on the horizon."
But Del. Norman H. Conway, the Eastern Shore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said that under the proposed budget, the state has $1 billion in cash reserves it could tap if revenue declines.
House OKs cameras to target speeders
The House of Delegates approved a bill yesterday allowing local and state authorities to post cameras to catch speeders. The Senate has approved a similar measure.
The House bill, which passed 90 to 45, would enable Maryland's counties and municipalities to use cameras in school zones and residential areas where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour or lower. It also would authorize cameras in work zones along interstates and state highways.
Violators would be liable to pay a $40 fine if photographed going 10 miles over the speed limit under the House bill, reduced from the $75 proposed in the original measure.