- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates yesterday approved $670 million in spending in the state’s capital budget for renovating schools, hospitals, health facilities and government buildings.

The bill, which passed unanimously after little debate, will be sent to the Senate, which is working on its own version.

House Minority Leader George C. Edwards said his only concern is that the capital budget requests that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. approve spending nearly $40 million from the state’s reserve fund.

“By doing that, you won’t have money next year, or you are going to cut the budget,” said Mr. Edwards, Garrett County Republican.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, noted that the governor already has cut the budget over the years.

“It is a good bill,” Mr. Busch said. “We dealt with our priorities, and everyone supported it.”

The House’s capital budget calls for $250 million to build and renovate public schools; nearly $220 million to improve facilities at community colleges, universities and independent colleges; and $60 million for hospitals, state health facilities and government buildings.

It also calls for nearly $130 million in additional money for school construction in 21 jurisdictions — including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and the city of Baltimore. Where the remaining $10 million will go was not specified.

“Providing additional funds to support public school construction projects was the most important goal of the committee,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Democrat. “In almost every instance where a reduction was made in other program areas, the funds were redirected to meet the dire need of our K through 12 public school system.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, already has cut the budget by more than $300 million for the upcoming fiscal year, but the state’s Office of Policy Analysis has predicted an $850 million deficit in 2007.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said taking any of the $796 million from the reserve fund would be irresponsible.

“The governor believes that raiding the rainy-day fund is fiscally irresponsible, given that the monies that are in the rainy-day fund are primarily for health and human services,” she said.

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Senators likely will get a chance to debate a bill that would count homosexual and transgendered people as a group protected from hate crimes.

A committee voted yesterday to approve the legislation, which has cleared the House.

The bill, which has been lobbied by homosexual-rights advocates, would trigger stiffer penalties for crimes committed against someone because of their sexual orientation.

“I think we need to pass this, because I think it’s discrimination if we don’t,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat.

It was approved in the House last week with a 93-41 vote.

The brief debate in the Senate committee gave a glimpse of the arguments likely to be made on the Senate floor. The panel advanced the bill with a 6-5 vote.

“It’s a bad bill. It’s too extreme,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick County Republican, who proposed removing protection for transgendered people from the bill.

His proposal failed.

“We’re trying to open up people’s minds here and find out what their intentions were,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford County Republican, as she argued against the bill. “I don’t think we can do that in every case.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. says he won’t allow a bill that would fund embryonic stem-cell research to get to the floor until he’s sure it has enough votes to survive a filibuster.

Mr. Miller says he doesn’t want to relive the tense, eight-day filibuster waged in 1990 by opponents of an abortion-rights bill.

Twenty-nine votes are needed to end debate. With a week-and-a-half left in the legislative session, the bill could reach the Senate floor today.

The House has approved a bill that would provide $23 million a year for the research starting in 2007. The Senate bill would leave the dollar amount undetermined.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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