- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

Maryland Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday he will ask two Democrats the House speaker and Senate president to introduce his legislation that would establish a Project Exile crime-prevention program, allow charter schools and create more opportunities for faith-based funding.
Mr. Ehr-lich said the three bills would be his top priorities during the General Assembly session starting next month.
"I look forward to working with every member of the legislature to see these bills passed and successfully implemented," he said.
However, House Speaker-elect Michael E. Busch, Annapolis Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat, yesterday said it was too early to say whether they would back the bills and how they would do in the Democratic-majority General Assembly.
"I am not against the bills per se. It will be debated, and we will try to work with the governor on it," Mr. Busch said. He added, however, that the governor would have to find some other lawmaker a Republican, for example to sponsor the bills.
He said charter schools and Project Exile were not new to Maryland. "They have been around the General Assembly for half a dozen years. Lots of better legislators have already staked out various positions on it," he said.
Mr. Miller said he would be "happy to assist [Mr. Ehrlich] if he cannot find someone else to assist him," but added he could not make any commitments before he had met with the governor-elect and discussed the proposals.
"At this point of time, he is just discussing concepts," he said.
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, lower Eastern Shore Republican, said he expected some of Mr. Ehrlich's initiatives would encounter resistance from the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
"Some will be opposed just because of obstructionism," Mr. Stoltzfus said. "There are those in the majority who want nothing more than to see this administration fail."
Mr. Ehrlich could order Project Exile, as instituted in Virginia, without input from the General Assembly. He need only secure the cooperation of Thomas M. DiBiagio, U.S. attorney for Maryland. Mr. Ehrlich, as congressman, had recommended Mr. DiBiagio for his post.
Under the program, the U.S. attorney would prosecute gun crimes under federal laws with federal minimum sentences and provide for convicted gun felons to serve jail time out of state.
However, opponents criticize the policy's zero-tolerance approach.
"It would be a long-overdue initiative to get guns off streets in Maryland," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. "In Richmond, when it was first implemented, homicide rates went down by 50 percent."
Implementing the program also would make Maryland eligible for $500 million in federal aid, supporters say.
Mr. Ehrlich expressed his support for charter schools during his campaign and yesterday made legislation allowing them one of his priorities as governor.
Maryland is one of 13 states in the nation without a charter school law.
Legislation has been introduced unsuccessfully in the General Assembly for several years. A bill allowing such schools passed in the House last year but was held up in the Senate conference committee.
Mr. Fawell said Mr. Ehrlich's proposal would be "very similar."
Charter school supporters criticized last year's bill in committee as too restrictive.
Mr. Fawell said Mr. Ehrlich strongly backs charter schools and "in principle, he believes that Maryland having no charter laws has no access to $225 million of federal money. The state is woefully behind times when it comes to greater opportunity."
Mr. Ehrlich's third proposal would allow more funding opportunities for faith-based institutions, "which are important providers of many types of health and human services but historically are ineligible to deliver government-funded services," Mr. Fawell said.
Mr. Ehrlich is proposing the creation of the Governor's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives that would "show the increased prominence it would have in this administration," Mr. Fawell said.
The legislation also would require an audit of all state-provided health and human services.
Local faith-based groups say they need more funds, not another office.
"We are turning away people every day because we don't have the funds to help them. I don't know how they are going to get us more money," said Marian Wood, interim executive director of the Community Ministry of Prince George's County, which provides emergency shelter and meals for the homeless, employment counseling and other services.
She said she feared that the Ehrlich administration intended to redirect money to faith-based providers at the expense of government programs.
Mr. Ehrlich yesterday also announced the appointments of three administration officials to help shape his legislative agenda. Former Delegate Ken Masters, a Democrat who backed Mr. Ehrlich during his election campaign, was named director of legislative affairs. Joseph Getty, a former Carroll County Republican delegate who chose not to run for re-election this year in keeping with his term-limits pledge, was named director of policy. Paul Schurick was named director of communications and strategic planning.

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