Lawmakers want special session to stick to budget

In theory, a special session of the General Assembly could be an opportunity raise any issue a legislator wanted to attempt to put on the agenda. In reality, there seems to be virtually no desire on the part of lawmakers to deal with anything but the state  budget in the session set to begin May 14.
Democratic lawmakers interviewed at the party's annual gala Monday night in Greenbelt were unanimous in rejecting the idea of dealing with non-budget items during the special session -- whether it be pet bills that died on the final day of the regular session or the pit bulls that came up on the losing end of a Court of Appeals decision.
Republican legislators, for the most part, don't even want to deal with the budget.  They'd prefer no special session at all  -- especially since its basic purpose is to raise taxes to avoid more than $500 million in spending cuts.
Gov. Martin O'Malley called the special session last week for the specific purpose of passing that income tax increase and other measures that would let the state avoid implementing what has become known as the Doomsday Budget. Democratic lawmakers, from the leaders to the rank and file, seem to be on board.
When Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was asked whether their was any sentiment for taking up non-budget issues next week his answer was a terse "no." House Speaker Michael E. Busch has been, if anything, more emphatic on that point.
Sen. James Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he has heard no serious suggestions about bringing up unrelated issues.
"People are pretty focused on getting the budget finalized and doing it quickly and simply," he said. "We are going to do more or less what we were ready to do on the last day."
That means the House and Senate would come back and essentially ratify the deal on taxes and other budget issues that they reached on the final night of the session but failed to give final approval before time expired at midnight April 9.
Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, a Baltimore Democrat, said there's no reason the special session can't be wrapped up in a few days. "We can be efficient. This isn't Washington, this is Annapolis," she said.
A group called Maryland Votes for Animals has urged lawmakers to use the special session as an opportunity to overrule a decision by Maryland's highest court that classifies pit bulls as dangerous animals. But lawmakers seem disinclined to sink their teeth into that issue this month.
Del. Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, said pit bull legislation is "not going to happen."
"It's topical, so it's on people's minds," he said. But Hucker said voters don't want to see their legislators dealing with "niche issues" in a special session.
Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, agreed.
"People want to get in and get out as quick as possible," she said.
Del. James Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat, said it would be "foolish" to deal with anything but budget issues in the special session. He used the same word to describe the suggestion that the legislature hold a second session this summer to take up the issue of allowing expanded gambling.

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