- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly yesterday closed its 90-day session by overriding Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of an international trade bill and dissolving a key office he was trying to reform.

But Mr. Ehrlich said the 2005 session was a success for his administration, despite legislative attempts to erode his autonomy and kill key bills, such as his slot-machines legislation.

“A lot of our initiatives have passed,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told The Washington Times. “I’m very pleased with the budget. We held the line on taxes, except for the Wal-Mart bill.”

The General Assembly approved the so-called “Wal-Mart bill,” which requires state businesses with more than 10,000 workers to pay at least 8 percent of payroll on employee health benefits. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, is the only business that meets the criteria.

“The biggest embarrassment of the session is the Wal-Mart bill,” Mr. Ehrlich said, adding that the state could lose 1,000 jobs.

Yesterday, the Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of a bill requiring the governor to seek approval from the assembly before joining international trade pacts. Lawmakers also approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the governor to seek approval from the legislature before selling state parkland.

“It is another one of those things that just takes authority from the governor,” House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Garrett County Republican, said. “Democrats must be worried because they are taking all this authority from the governor.”

During Mr. Ehrlich’s tenure, the General Assembly also has sought to limit the governor’s ability to make appointments to the state elections board, and to hire and fire workers at will.

Racing to adjourn by midnight, the legislature approved spending $250 million on school construction, allowing same-sex couples to make their partners co-owners of property without paying a transfer tax, and reorganizing the Office for Children, Youth and Families. Mr. Ehrlich had decided to elevate the agency to a Cabinet-level post as part of an effort to retool the troubled agency.

Most of the additional money for school construction will go to Baltimore and the big suburban counties, although Charles, Cecil and Frederick counties also received substantial increases.

“We were able to increase school construction more than 60 percent over the governor’s proposal and more than double last year’s appropriation,” Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Democrat, told the House.

Mr. Ehrlich said the legislature disappointed him by overriding his veto of a tax on health maintenance organizations, failing to advance slots legislation and gutting his proposal to give retired military veterans a tax break.

“They were very clear to me that they didn’t want a Republican administration getting credit,” he said.

The House and Senate had approved competing versions of slots legislation but could not resolve their differences.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, criticized the governor for presenting a “very light” agenda.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve said the General Assembly did not obstruct the governor but simply opposed his flawed bills.

“Their attitude is that if we don’t cave in to them, we are obstructionist,” said Mr. Barve, Montgomery Democrat. “We disagree with the governor on some substantive issues, and we are not going to cave in simply because he is the governor.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Ehrlich said he had not given up on slots, adding that he would consider convening a special session on slots.

Last night, the House approved a bill that would rename Baltimore-Washington International Airport after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a native of Baltimore.

The bill got final approval on a 101-31 vote.

Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday he would sign the bill, which also needs final approval from the Board of Public Works, of which Mr. Ehrlich is a member, along with Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Under the threat of a bipartisan filibuster on funding for stem-cell research, Mr. Miller did not bring up the bill before adjournment last night.

Mr. Ehrlich has said he supports stem-cell research, including human-embryonic research.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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