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Political Notebook: Grading Howard's state legislators

It's a lot like what happens when teachers give students their report cards to bring home to their parents. But instead of being graded on their academic performance by teachers, state lawmakers are graded on their voting records by various interest groups, and the reports go to their constituents.

If the grades are good, lawmakers are anxious to tell their constituents. If the grades are bad, they won't bring it up.

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A number of interest groups recently released legislative report cards on the 2012 Maryland General Assembly session, including the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the Maryland Business for Responsive Government and the Maryland State Education Association.

Each advocacy group has its own agenda and grading system, despite advertising itself as nonpartisan.

So it's no surprise Democrats fared well with the liberal-leaning Maryland LCV and MSEA, and Republicans received top marks from conservative-leaning MBRG.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters looked at key pieces of legislation — some that passed and some that didn't — in crafting its 2012 Environmental Scorecard.

Legislators were evaluated based on votes taken on: Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill banning septic systems in new developments in designated rural areas; O'Malley's bill increasing the Bay Restoration Fee to pay for upgrades to the state's sewage plants and other initiatives aimed to curb pollution in the Chesapeake Bay; a bill banning arsenic chicken feed (senators were judged on their votes on an amendment, not the entire bill); and a bill requiring local jurisdictions to create dedicated storm water utility fees.

House members also were scored on their votes for O'Malley's bill to promote offshore wind development, and legislators received extra consideration for bills that went to their respective committees but never made it to the floor.

In Howard, District 9 Republicans scored the lowest, with Sen. Allan Kittleman and Del. Gail Bates earning 0 percent scores. Del. Warren Miller earned 14 percent because of his support for a bill that came before his committee that would help ramp up residential solar energy programs.

Howard's Democrats scored better with the Maryland LCV. District 12A Del. Steven DeBoy and District 13 Dels. Guy Guzzone, Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner all scored 100 percent. District 12 Sen. Ed Kasemeyer scored 80 percent and District 13 Sen. Jim Robey scored 60 percent.

District 12 Dels. James Malone and Liz Bobo had the most legislation considered in their scores, as they serve on the House Environmental Matters Committee. Malone, who is vice chair of the committee, scored 91 percent, just shy of a perfect score because of his 'no' vote on a bill that would have established a 5-cent fee for use of disposable bags. Bobo's 82 percent score was off the top mark only because of committee and floor votes against the septic bill, both protest votes because she felt the bill didn't go far enough in addressing the problem.

Maryland Business for Responsive Government's 2012 Roll Call report looked at votes from various stages of the legislative process: final versions of bills, committee versions, amendments and critical motions. The report looked at 10 votes from senators and 13 votes from delegates on bills related to business, jobs and economic growth.

Bills the group looked at include the septic bill, the Bay Restoration Fee bill, a bill to institute combined reporting of income tax for certain corporations with common ownership, a budget amendment Kittleman sponsored to block the transfer of $50 million in policyholder surplus from the Injured Workers Insurance Fund to the state's General Fund and various actions related to the special session bill to increase taxes on high-income earners.

Kittleman, Bates and Miller all earned 100 percent scores from MBRG.

Meanwhile, the highest score earned by a Democrat who represents Howard was DeBoy's score of 36 percent. Kasemeyer earned 33 percent, Robey 25 percent, Pendergrass 18 percent, Turner 11 percent, Malone and Bobo both earned 10 percent and Guzzone came in last with 9 percent.

The Maryland State Education Association's 2012 report card does not give out scores in percentages. It simply gives legislators a check mark for each bill in which they supported the union's position and an "X" for each bill in which they did not.

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The legislation MSEA evaluated were: the budget bill; the revenue package (income tax increase) passed in special session; a bill reevaluating the need for various tax credits; a bill to legalize same-sex marriage; a bill raising the dropout age to 18; and a bill overhauling the state's maintenance of effort law.

The majority of Howard's Democrats received all check marks. The exceptions were Pendergrass, who voted against raising the dropout age, and DeBoy, who voted against legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the dropout age and increasing income taxes.

Bates and Miller did not earn a single check mark, but Kittleman earned three for his votes in favor of same-sex marriage, the dropout age increase and tax credit re-evaluation.

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