O'Malley legislative agenda focuses on less-costly goals

The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley's chief legislative aide gave a sneak peek yesterday at the governor's priorities for the coming year, a list that is expected to include few costly programs and that instead will focus on tougher drunken-driving and domestic violence laws.

Joseph C. Bryce, in a briefing in Annapolis, told lawmakers that O'Malley plans to revive legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland and to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to deploy speed cameras.

Those proposals have failed in past General Assembly sessions.

"We are obviously being very cognizant of the state budget when looking at issues this year," Bryce said, explaining that many of the governor's proposals would have little or no financial impact on the beleaguered state budget.

Much of the debate in the legislative session that begins in January will be over the state's financial straits. Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster said yesterday that she expects a shortfall of roughly $1 billion for the next fiscal year and that the governor is preparing about $200 million in spending cuts for the current fiscal year.

She conceded that those figures could be "optimistic" and said updated deficit projections will be released next week.

Foster said the O'Malley administration plans a hard look at mandated spending on education, local aid and other programs that hamstring the annual budget process. She said that O'Malley, a Democrat, aims to craft a budget without doing "irreparable harm" to state agencies.

O'Malley also might address recent controversies. Bryce said a bill may be needed to implement new state police regulations regarding surveillance, in response to outrage from civil liberties groups over a spying operation in 2005 and 2006 that targeted anti-war and other activists. Other proposals could reform the state's medevac system for ferrying medical patients by helicopter after a crash in Prince George's County killed four people in September.

In addition, Bryce said O'Malley might seek to overhaul state policies regarding the management of development and to reverse an appellate court ruling allowing a 4,300-home development in rural Western Maryland that environmentalists oppose.

The governor is also weighing proposals to bolster the state's aquaculture industry.

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