- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ANNAPOLIS It's crunch time for Maryland legislators, who begin the final full week of the General Assembly session today with most major issues on the 2002 agenda still unresolved.
Fiscal issues including the budget and a proposed cigarette-tax increase will fill the agenda for the first part of the week.
House and Senate negotiators worked 11 hours Saturday to settle differences over the $22 billion budget submitted in January by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
With a few issues still hanging, fiscal leaders said yesterday they would not be able to meet the midnight deadline for passing the budget.
That will require Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, to issue a proclamation extending the session. But the proclamation will have no practical effect if, as legislative leaders expect, the budget is completed before the scheduled end of the session, April 8.
The Senate was to begin debate yesterday on a bill that would increase the cigarette tax by 34 cents a pack and use the money to begin implementing an ambitious plan to increase school aid by about $1.2 billion over the next five years.
The plan to increase the tax to $1 a pack has broad support within the legislature. There are, however, widely divergent views on whether the state should commit to a major increase in school funding at a time when revenues have fallen because of the recession.
Also on the schedule for debate in the Senate is a bill to create new districts for election of Maryland's eight members of Congress in the 2002 primary and general elections.
Despite complaints from critics that the plan is flawed because of oddly shaped districts that split counties and communities in central Maryland, the governor's plan is expected to be approved by the House and Senate.
The top two drunken-driving bills of the session are nearing final approval.
One would make it illegal to have an open container of alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a vehicle. The second would impose stricter penalties on repeat drunken drivers.
The Senate and House are on record supporting both measures, and only one or two final votes are needed to send the bills to Mr. Glendening for his signature.
Several of the anti-terrorism bills sponsored by the governor and legislative leaders are awaiting final approval, including one expanding wiretapping powers that is opposed by some conservative and liberal lawmakers as well as civil-liberties groups.
A bill to restructure the Prince George's County school board has been approved by the House of Delegates and is awaiting action in the Senate
The proposal was prompted by a bitter feud between the elected school board and Superintendent Iris T. Metts that many legislators said was damaging the school system.
But efforts to replace the elected board with one that is a mixture of elected and appointed members has run into strong opposition from some Prince George's officials and parents who do not want the state telling them how to run their school system.
Other issues that are hanging as the legislature nears the April 8 adjournment deadline include Mr. Glendening's bill to impose state regulations on the coastal bays at Ocean City, legislation to block or regulate the proposed sale of CareFirst BlueCross/BlueShield and bills to reduce the costs of prescription drugs for low-income Marylanders with no health insurance.


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