The Washington Times - January 10, 2012, 08:22AM

The 2012 Maryland General Assembly session could be the most hectic in years and the busiest yet for Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to push for same-sex marriage, environmental legislation and a higher gas tax — a stark contrast from last year, when he was accused of devoting too much time to his role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, reports David Hill of The Washington Times.

Metro is proposing to increase bus and rail fares by about 5 percent, raise parking rates and eliminate a controversial rush-hour surcharge this summer to overcome a $116 million shortfall in its next operating budget. Riders who use paper farecards would face the biggest change. Whether going two stops or 10, they would pay one-way flat fares: $6 during rush hour, $4 in off-peak times. For a group traveling together, hailing a taxi might quickly become more palatable, according to The Washington Post.

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The District of Columbia is eliminating free handicapped parking in some areas of the city and will convert up to 400 metered spaces to parking reserved for people with disabilities. The “all must pay” policy will begin later this month after the city installs handicapped parking meters — all marked with red tops and compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act — downtown and in Southwest’s federal corridors. The city says the current system is rife with fraud that harms D.C.’s disabled population as others take advantage of the free parking, according to the Washington Examiner.

Maryland Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg will push to abolish the state’s death penalty during the upcoming General Assembly, and the NAACP is expected to throw its support behind the proposal today. The bill by Mr. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, would make Maryland the 17th state to outlaw capital punishment. He sponsored similar legislation last year that stalled in a House committee, according to The Times.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is expected today to propose spending more than $350 million next year on public school construction, the second-highest total in state history, several people familiar with the plans told The Post.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell laid out his legislative priorities Monday, saying that for Virginia to compete with other states in job creation and the economy, it must provide adequate funding for education. But the most prominent priority was perhaps a measure to repeal a law that bans school systems from starting their school year before Labor Day, reports David Sherfinski of The Times.

Can’t we all just get along? That’s the message from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for fellow Republicans — and now rivals for the 2013 governor’s race — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II. Mr. Bolling and Mr. Cuccinelli haven’t spoken for a month — ever since the attorney general made a surprise announcement in early December that he would challenge the lieutenant governor in the primary next year. “Let it be said for the record, I encourage them to talk,” Mr. McDonnell said, according to The Post.

The federal judge hearing a lawsuit by four candidates excluded from Virginia’s Republican presidential primary temporarily blocked distribution of absentee ballots Monday. U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney ordered the State Board of Elections to direct local electoral boards to refrain from mailing out absentee ballots until after he makes a ruling Friday on the candidates’ bid to be included on the March 6 ballot, according to the Associated Press.

The rat population around the two Occupy D.C. camps, McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, has “exploded” since protesters began their vigil in October, the city’s health department told The Post. Health inspectors have seen rats running openly through both camps and spotted numerous new burrows and nests underneath hay-stuffed pallets that occupiers are using for beds. Both campsites had working kitchens for weeks until last week, but protesters at McPherson Square voluntarily closed down theirs after health inspectors pointed out unsanitary conditions during an informal monitoring visit.