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Spotlight shines on O'Malley at national governors meeting

At a gathering of governors, Gov. Martin O'Malley led a panel Sunday on cybersecurity, calling attacks on state and federal databases "one of the nation's great emerging threats."

The Democratic governor is co-chairman of the National Governors Association's homeland security and public safety committee, sharing the role with Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, O'Malley had a prominent role throughout the weekend-long National Governors Association meeting, which included sessions on Medicaid, the economy and education. O'Malley hosted a fundraiser Saturday night for the party's governors and led their Friday discussion with President Barack Obama.

At the cybersecurity panel, experts said states need to do more to protect the sensitive data they possess, including voter registration, driver's license and tax information. Three-quarters of the states have reported seeing some kind of security breach in recent years, said Will Pelgrin, chairman of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

Brewer said state leaders have a responsibility to prevent secure information from "falling into the hands of those who would do us harm."

About a year ago, O'Malley announced the "CyberMaryland" initiative as a way to promote businesses, academic institutions and government agencies that are involved in information security. Maryland has 250,000 technology sector jobs, O'Malley said.

Governors typically use their national conference as a way to share strategies and work toward consensus on problems they all face. All governors were invited Sunday night to a black-tie dinner at the White House. O'Malley planned to attend with his wife, Katie O'Malley, the governor's spokesman said.

Friction with labor unions and budget deficits made the usually nonpartisan gathering more partisan in tone. On Friday, O'Malley squared off with Texas Gov. Rick Perry over state spending issues at a debate hosted by the website Politico.

At a lively discussion Sunday about health care, Republican and Democratic governors alike lamented the spiraling costs of Medicaid and its impact on state budgets. But many of the Republicans in the room argued that states would be able to tackle their Medicaid-driven deficits only if Obama's federal health care reform is scrapped.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joined the group via a videotaped message and a conference call. The Republican governor was supposed to lead the panel, but fierce debate between his administration and public-sector unions over his plan to largely end collective bargaining kept him in his home state.

"Medicaid is a significant part of the budget deficit," Walker said, calling the health program for low-income people "unsustainable."

Many of the governors and policy analysts said a key to solving the crisis is to move away from a system that centered on payment for medical procedures and toward one that provides incentives for wellness care and disease prevention. O'Malley said Maryland has made some advances in that area.

Ten hospitals, he said, have voluntarily "stepped up" preventative care and share in the cost savings that come from fewer emergency medical procedures.

O'Malley said listening to stories about Texas' outsized budget crisis and Michigan's double-digit unemployment figures provide perspective on the challenges Maryland faces in the aftermath of the national recession.

"It's clear that we're coming through this in advance of many other states," O'Malley said in an interview. "There's nothing like coming to a meeting of the nation's governors to make you appreciate Maryland."

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