- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The state Senate approved an education bill yesterday that will force Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to fully fund an expensive reform plan unless he takes a public stand against the measure with a veto.

Mr. Ehrlich, who has not decided whether to sign or veto the bill, has until the end of next week to make his decision.

The Senate voted 35-12 to repeal an escape clause in the Thornton plan, making it more likely that public schools will receive the full $1.3 billion envisioned by legislators when the law was enacted two years ago. The House approved the bill earlier this month.

The legislation was filed as emergency bills and required a three-fifths vote for approval — the same vote required to override a veto.

The Thornton plan spread out the $1.3 billion in new state aid over six years and requires the governor to include money in the budget each year to make the payments.

The lawmakers responded to criticism that they were not providing a way to pay for the plan by added the trigger, a requirement that full funding would not be required for the final three steps unless they adopted a resolution this year affirming that money would be available.

Without the trigger, no resolution vote will be taken, and the governor would be required by the law to put the full amount of Thornton funding in the budget.

The trigger came into question last year when Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said the provision may be unconstitutional because it could amount to a legislative veto. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled federal legislative vetoes unconstitutional.

• • •

The vote on the education bill came just minutes after senators passed a bill that would put 15,500 slot machines in as many as six locations in Maryland. Mr. Ehrlich says revenue from the machines will generate more than $800 million a year for schools.

The heavily amended version of Mr. Ehrlich’s slots bill was approved by a 27-18 vote, two votes more than last year when it passed in the Senate.

The bill died last year in the House Ways and Means Committee and faces an uncertain future when it returns next week.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, played a key role in defeating the Republican governor’s bill a year ago but would not predict what will happen this year.

The governor’s office and legislative fiscal advisers estimate the state’s share of slot machine revenues would be almost $830 million when all 15,500 slot machines are in operation.

• • •

A Democratic senator considered to be the swing vote on a proposed Maryland ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns said yesterday he will vote against the gun-control bill.

Sen. John A. Gianetti Jr., a Prince George’s County resident whose district includes part of Anne Arundel County, had been under intense pressure from both sides of the emotional gun-control issue.

Mr. Gianetti said he decided to oppose the bill for several reasons, including his feeling that “you’re not going to see safer streets” if the bill became law.

Mr. Gianetti said he also was influenced by Mr. Ehrlich’s statement that he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

The bill by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery Democrat, would replace the federal ban on assault weapons that will expire this year unless extended by Congress. An extension is considered unlikely with Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the committee, supports Mr. Garagiola’s bill and said he will postpone a vote until next week.

• • •

Maryland’s first black bear hunt in 51 years likely will proceed this fall, now that a bill blocking it has failed in the House Environmental Matters Committee.

The vote Thursday killed the legislation backed by animal rights activists who say the bear population is too fragile to survive a hunt. The legislation would have halted the hunt for six years. The vote was a final hurdle for a hunt that will target about 30 of the 400 black bears believed to be living in Garrett and western Allegany counties. Once the harvest goal is met, the hunt will end.

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