Updates on final day of Assembly session

Traffic court changes Updated 1:32 p.m.: The Senate just gave final approval to a House bill that would shift the burden to the driver who receives a ticket to request a trial in traffic court.

The bill, which passed unanimously, was a top priority for thye state's police chiefs because they believe it will save them millions of dollars in overtime paid to officers who go to traffic court for the trials of defendants who don't show up.

Once implemented, the bill will change the all-too-familiar routine for those who receive traffic tickets so that they don't receive and automatic court date. Rather, they will have to check off a box on the ticket and send it to the court requesting a date.

The measure brings Maryland into conformity with the overwhelming majority of states in their traffic court procedures.

Read more from Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog.

Republicans spark debate Updated 1:19 p.m.: In any group of 47, you're going to find a few who have a whole lot more to say than the others. You can view them as brave individuals who don't shrink from speaking truth to power. Or you can look at them as individuals who love to hear the sound of their own voices. Maybe it's a bit of both.

In the Senate of Maryland, few senators are on their feet more than E. J. Pipkin of the Eastern Shore, Alex Mooney of Frederick County and Andrew Harris of Baltimore County. And today's no different. All have been up multiple times to quiz a bill's floor leader, debate bills or explain votes.

Part of the reason they speak up more is that they are of the opposition party, the Republicans. But even among their fellow GOP senators, these three stand out for the amount of time they spend on their feet. Some of their equally conservative colleagues, for instance Carroll County's Larry Haines or Washington County's Donald Munson, seldom participate in the floor debate and prefer to do their work in committee.

For Harris, today is a Maryland Senate swan song -- at least in this go-round. Next year this time will presumably find him either in Congress -- he's leaving Annapolis to seek the 1st District House seat held by Rep. Frank Kratovil -- or in private life. Democratic senators will not miss his sometimes acerbic cross-examination.

On the Democratic side, Baltimore County's Delores Kelley stands out as a senator with a lot to say on the floor. She does have a way of popping up just as it appears the Senate is about to vote.

In general, the more powerful and influential senators participate minimally in floor debate except when they're presenting bills or answering questions about them.

Solar energy bill passes Updated 12:48 p.m.: A solar energy bill backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate Bill 277, has just passed the Senate with an agreement on the House's amendments. It now goes to the governor.

It passed on a 31-15 votes that roughly followed party lines.

The bill provide incentives for energy companies to increase the amount of solar energy in their portfolios. Republicans objected that it would increase utility bills. The amounts were minuscule, but every penny counts in the game of political symbolism.

Read more from Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog.

Blackjack at Rosecroft? Updated 12:10 p.m.: The legislature can move rapidly once it gets down to crunch time. In the time since the Senate convened an hours ago, dozens of House-passed bills have become law -- most by near-unanimous votes.

We did have a briefly interesting exchange here over House Bill 56, which came in as a Worcester County nonprofit groups' slot machines bill and somewhere along the line acquired an amendment allowing card games at Rosecroft race track in Prince George's County.

The bill passed 34-12, but not before Sen. Alex Mooney of Frederick County noted that this type of gambling expansion is why he opposed slot machines in the first place.

"It's going to keep growing and we're going to have slot machines everywhere in Maryland," the Republican said.

The way things are going, he may be right.

Read more from Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog.

Bicyclists weigh in for 3-foot bill Updated 11:46 a.m.: Sine die is not usually a day for rallies for or against legislation. Those events generally take place in February or March. But the state's bicyclists still have a bill they've been pushing for years in the balance today -- one that would require motorists to keep a 3-foot buffer between their vehicles and bicyclists.

It's a simple bill that many other states have adopted, but nothing concerning the relations between bicyclists and motor vehicles is simple. The bill crept out of a House committee just Friday, and it has to race through both houses to become law by midnight.

Read more from Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog.

Capital budget glides through Updated 2:40 p.m.: The state's capital budget eased through the Senate on a 43-4 vote after Sen. Ed DeGrange brought the House-Senate conference agreement to floor.

The capital budget is usually far less contentious than the general fund budget. Most Republicans voted for it, though four cast what were essentially protest votes.

The House also signed off on it.

Read more from Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog.

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