Democrats, Republicans agree to push package of bills in Annapolis

A bipartisan group of senators put aside the battling that often prevails in Annapolis to announce Thursday a common agenda of bills that Democrats and Republicans can rally around.

The bills would preserve scholarships for veterans, protect children from identity theft, promote social studies in public schools, help high-tech workers with the cost of security clearances and shield family farms from estate taxes.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller started the news conference in the Senate's lounge with an endorsement of the idea of bringing together lawmakers of both parties on issues that do not excite partisan passions.

The Calvert County Democrat said that while there are many issues that divide the parties, he wanted to emphasize some that unite them.

"On the issues where we can find common ground, we're going to show people we talk together, we work together and we're going to have their interests at heart," Miller said.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin said the GOP leadership in his chamber is behind the legislation.

"The Senate president reached out and offered the opportunity to co-sponsor this legislation," the Upper Shore Republican said.

The event was sponsored by senators, though some House Democrats also spoke.

Four of the bills are unrelated to the issues of spending and taxation that often divide lawmakers in Annapolis. The exception is a measure that would relieve family farms of the burden of Maryland's estate tax. It would exempt from the tax family farms valued at up to $5 million when they are passed down to family members.

The $5 million figure matches the federal standard and would replace the $1 million level now in Maryland law. For farms worth more than $5 million, the tax would be reduced to 5 percent. The tax is currently up to 16 percent.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Frederick County Democrat, said the legislation would keep family members from being taxed off their farm after the owner's death.

"It's also one of the best land protection policies. If we keep the land in farming, we protect it from development," Young said.

Two of the contenders for Maryland's 6th District seat in Congress — Republican state Sen. David R. Brinkley of Frederick County and Democratic state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola of Montgomery County — appeared together in support of the measure. Each is seeking his party's nomination for the seat held by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican.

Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signaled his support for a similar bill that did not pass.

Val Connelly, government relations director of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the legislation was the top priority of delegates at the group's recent convention.

The other bills in the package would:

•Provide protections against the theft of children's identities, a crime with the potential to ruin the credit of young people long before they seek a credit card or a loan. The law would let parents or guardians create a credit report in their child's name and then put a lock on it, effectively preventing thieves from gaining access to children's identities.

•Restore the state's recognition of social studies as a core discipline in K-12 education. Proponents said the role of civics, government and other social studies has been de-emphasized in the decade since the No Child Left Behind Act stressed reading, science and math. The bill would not, however, restore the state assessment that used to be given in social studies.

•Create an income tax credit of up to $3,000 for the cost of obtaining a security clearance. Supporters said the bill would help Maryland high-tech workers qualify for skilled jobs with federal contractors, giving them an edge in hiring.

•Extend a program giving a tuition discount at Maryland public colleges to veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bill would extend the law, set to expire in 2016, to 2020.

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican running for Congress in the 2nd District, welcomed the chance to work with members of the other party.

"In Washington, they tend to highlight our differences," she said. "In Annapolis, it's important to come together whenever we can to work together to represent the people in our communities."


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