- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced his legislative agenda Monday for the 2012 General Assembly that includes proposed bills to implement offshore wind energy, limit septic tanks and legalize same-sex marriage.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, officially submitted the bills to the House and Senate on Monday night. Last week, he submitted a proposed budget that included several tax hikes and $3.6 billion in capital-project spending to improve infrastructure and create jobs.

The governor’s offshore wind, septic and gay-marriage proposals are all second incarnations of bills that failed in last year’s Assembly but will be touted again by the governor during the current 90-day session.

“This session, our legislative agenda will help us create jobs for Maryland families, protect the quality of life for all Marylanders and continue our push for a more sustainable future,” Mr. O'Malley said.

The state’s fight over gay marriage is expected to garner national news coverage and could weigh heavily on Mr. O'Malley’s legacy and chances at national political office.
Six states and the District have legalized gay marriage, and Maryland is one of several states including New Jersey and Washington expected to consider bills this year.

The Maryland Senate is expected to pass a gay-marriage bill for the second straight year, but supporters are currently short of the necessary votes in the House, which halted such legislation last year.

Mr. O'Malley has said his bill will provide equal rights for gays but will also be explicit in protecting the rights of religious organizations that oppose gay marriage and won’t force them to condone or participate in gay nuptials. The governor is expected to meet Tuesday with leading supporters to discuss the bill.

The governor is also banking on several environmental reforms this year, including an offshore wind bill to provide tax incentives for utility companies that purchase renewable energy credits from wind providers.

While last year’s bill would have required utilities to implement offshore wind and failed due to concerns about resulting rate increases, Mr. O'Malley said this year’s bill would increase rates by no more than $2 a month for the average customer and wouldn’t take effect until 2017.

The governor also introduced a toned-down version of last year’s septic tank reform bill. The revised legislation aims to curb the use of septic systems where they could contribute to sprawl and pollution rather than banning them outright in large developments.

The governor also proposed changes to the state’s $30-a-year “flush tax,” which would double its annual revenue toward funding wastewater treatment plants.

Rather than flatly doubling the fee, Mr. O'Malley proposed a progressive fee that would take water usage into account, allowing smaller homes to pay as little as $22 while larger homes could pay as much as $111. Septic users would pay a $60 fee.

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