- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Legislation that would establish taxpayer-funded election-campaign coffers is struggling in the General Assembly.

A House bill appeared to be nearing approval in the waning weeks of the 90-day session, but was pulled unexpectedly yesterday before delegates cast their final votes.

Supporters said they will continue lobbying for the bill this week, but likely will focus on pressing it again in 2006. A Senate version isn’t likely to be approved by committee this year, they said.

“This is one of those very rare bills where every legislator is an expert,” said Sean Dobson, deputy director of the liberal lobbying group Progressive Maryland. “And they’re all personally affected by it. It’s only natural that they would want more information.”

The legislation would set up a trough of cash that candidates could use in time for 2010 elections.

Candidates for the state Senate or House could qualify for public funding by collecting $5 or more from at least 282 registered voters in their district. Candidates also would have to raise an additional $10,000 on their own and trade in the money in exchange for using the public money.

A Senate candidate then would receive $50,000 from the state for a contested primary and $50,000 for a contested general election. House candidates would receive $40,000 for a contested primary in a three-member district (slightly less for smaller districts) and $40,000 for a contested general election.

Candidates whose opponents opt out of the publicly funded system would be eligible for more public money if the opponents raise more than a certain amount.

Legislative analysts estimate the system would cost about $5 million a year.

The legislation is modeled after systems in Maine and Arizona, and supporters say it encourages good government by keeping candidates less dependent on contributors with the deepest pockets.

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The House of Delegates yesterday approved legislation that would provide about $25 million a year in state funds for research performed in Maryland on embryonic stem cells.

The bill, approved on an 81-53 roll call, now goes to the Senate, where it has been approved by one committee but is awaiting a vote in a second committee.

If the bill makes it to the Senate floor for debate, it faces a potential filibuster from opponents and could tie up the Senate in the closing days of the 2005 legislative session.

The House vote came after emotional debate from delegates who disagreed on whether stem cells from human embryos promise potential treatments for a wide range of illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

The bill would set aside part of the money Maryland gets from tobacco companies for research on embryos left over from fertility treatments that would otherwise be destroyed.

Supporters said the money is needed to ensure that Maryland remains a national leader in biotechnological research.

Opponents said funding should be directed to research on adult stem cells, which they said has already resulted in successful new treatments for some diseases.

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