- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Officials from Prince George's County and Baltimore city will travel to Annapolis this week to brief senators on their efforts to improve public schools.

The House Appropriations Committee will get a report Thursday morning from Prince George's County school officials. The committee is keeping an eye on the way the county is using state aid set aside to help the county improve its schools.

A few hours later, Baltimore officials will go before the Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee for a report on city schools.

Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley and school officials have been touting big gains in test scores as evidence that city schools are turning around.

Meanwhile, House leaders hope to complete work this week on one of their top priorities for the 2001 General Assembly session legislation that would put new controls on relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.

The bill is scheduled for debate tomorrow, and House Speaker Casper Taylor told delegates last week he expects them to finish work on proposed amendments that day. The bill then could be brought back for a final vote and sent to the Senate by the end of the week.

The bill would allow the state for the first time to suspend or revoke the licenses of lobbyists who violate ethics laws.

Lobbyists would have to disclose more information on how they spend money entertaining lawmakers. The law also would shed more light on campaign contributions given by companies that are represented in Annapolis by paid lobbyists.

The lobbying bill is a top item on the agenda as the legislature completes the third full week of the 90-day session.

On a lighter note, lawmakers will be discussing calico cats and car phones.

The House Commerce and Government Matters Committee will delve into a weighty matter of state on Thursday, trying to answer the question: Does Maryland need an official state cat?

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, sponsor of the bill, said the idea originated with students at Westernport Elementary School in his district. Five students will attend the hearing along with teachers, parents and grandparents.

"They are really pumped about this," Mr. Kelly said. The students have been studying the issue and getting tips on how to answer questions that committee members might throw at them.

Maryland already has a bunch of official symbols, including a state dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever.

A Baltimore County lawmaker will go before the same committee tomorrow seeking support for his bill to make it illegal to talk on a hand-held telephone while driving a motor vehicle.

The committee killed a similar bill last year by Democratic Delegate John Arnick, who hopes he will get a more sympathetic hearing this year because of publicity over a fatal accident involving a midshipman who slammed into another car while reaching for his cell phone.

The midshipman, Jason Jones, was acquitted of manslaughter but was convicted of negligent driving.

Also, state port officials will appear before a Senate committee Wednesday to update members on plans to dredge shipping channels leading to the Port of Baltimore.

The Maryland Port Authority has had to back down on a plan to dump muck from channels leading to the harbor into the Chesapeake Bay north of the Bay bridge.

Last week, it asked the Army Corps of Engineers to delay an economic study port officials hoped would justify the cost of dredging the C&D; canal approaches at the head of the Bay.

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