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Maryland lawmakers told Holocaust bill could cost transit aid

A bill that would block a U.S. subsidiary of the French national railway from bidding to become a partner in a $2.4 billion project because of its role in the Holocaust would put federal funding of the project at "significant risk," the attorney general's office has concluded.

In an opinion letter sent Wednesday, General Assembly counsel Dan Friedman told lawmakers that enacting the measure would run afoul of the Federal Transit Administration's rules ensuring open competition among bidders for projects to which it contributes money.

Keolis, a Rockville-based subsidiary of the French railway SNCF, is part of one of four teams bidding to become the state's private partner in building the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. It is, along with Baltimore's Red Line, one of the two largest projects in the Maryland Transit Administration's plans.

Holocaust survivors and their supporters want to block Keolis from participating in the bidding because of SNCF's role in transporting Jews and other Nazi victims to death camps during World War II. After the German victory over France in 1940, SNCF was put under the control of the German military, but SNCF critics contend railroad managers willingly collaborated in the deportations.

Supporters of the legislation believe the measure would put pressure on the French government to agree to reparations for SNCF's role.

Though delegates at a Monday hearing appeared sympathetic to the survivors and critical of the railroad, Friedman's letter could make proponents think twice about whether the legislation is the best way to achieve their aims. Even if the bill passes, it could also give Gov. Martin O'Malley a reason to veto it.

Friedman's view echoes that of the Maryland Department of Transportation, which warned delegates Monday that the legislation would jeopardize funding of the Purple Line. Transportation officials say the state cannot afford to build the rail line without federal participation. The Obama administration has approved the Purple Line project for $900 million in federal transit money.


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