- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

Maryland’s General Assembly won’t go into session for another two weeks, but some lawmakers are getting an early start on submitting legislation.

Legislators had submitted 92 bills as of last week, with goals ranging from allowing table games at slots casinos to giving the Assembly voting power over toll increases.

Lawmakers are expected to submit more than 2,000 bills in coming weeks and during the 90-day session, which begins Jan. 11.

Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Prince George’s Democrat, said bills are often filed early to allow for input from local officials and pre-filing a bill can also keep it from getting lost or sidetracked in the session’s hectic final weeks.

“You get an early hearing, and early hearings are easier because they’re not as rushed,” said Ms. Frush, who in October filed House Bill 5. The ethics reform bill would take her county’s zoning authority from the county council and give it to a new county planning board.

“By the time you get to the 1,200s, a lot of the bills get lost,” she said.

Among the other pre-filed bills this year include one to establish a commemorative month for German-Americans, one to relieve employees from having to work a shift after more than three hours of jury duty and another proposing stricter penalties against mass thefts. The latter typically involves groups of young people entering a convenience store to steal from the shelves.

Lawmakers may submit bills throughout the session, but Senate bills introduced after Feb. 3 and House bills introduced after Feb. 10 have to go through rules committees and are typically more difficult to pass.

Legislators submitted 2,353 bills during last year’s session, of which 707 passed both chambers.

Unsuccessful bills fail in a variety of ways, with some voted down on the House or Senate floor and others referred to summer study or quietly shelved by committees.

Of the nearly 100 bills that have been pre-filed this year, none of the Assembly’s most-anticipated proposals appear to be on the list.

The Assembly is expected to tackle such issues as same-sex marriage and a potential gas-tax hike. It also must consider new legislative maps and pass a state budget in the face of a $1.1-billion structural deficit.

The map, budget and gay-marriage bills will all be proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has said he will also sponsor jobs legislation that could offer business incentives and relax some state regulations.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, might also submit new versions of two failed bills from last session, which would establish an offshore-wind energy plan and institute septic-tank reforms.

State leaders often do not submit their most important legislation until the session’s early days, or later, due in part to complicated drafting processes and confidence that their bills will be heard even if they aren’t at the front of the line.

Last year, a bill to increase Maryland’s alcohol tax was introduced in late March, with just three weeks left in the session, and was fast-tracked to passage through urging by Democratic leaders including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.

“It’s good to file early, but then you have some bills that get pushed through at the end,” Ms. Frush said. “So it can be kind of a crapshoot.”