- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Spring has arrived, and for lawmakers, that means only a few days remain to finish the year’s work before leaving the state capital. Most of the legislative work is done, and on the remaining matters to be settled, lawmakers have little time to push through pet bills.

“There’s always hope,” AARP spokeswoman Tiffany Lundquist said about a bill to expand health insurance backed by the seniors advocacy group. “But we’re obviously running a little short on time.”

Lawmakers must conclude all their work by midnight Monday, and unlike some past sessions, not much drama remains.

Much of this year’s work is settled, except for some final touches. Other bills are thought so unlikely to pass that lawmakers are not expected to waste their final hours fighting over them.

For example, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, appeared relaxed yesterday morning as he prepared for the final week of the legislative term. When he stopped by a room full of reporters, he skipped a policy discussion and recited the baseball poem “Casey at the Bat” in honor of baseball season’s Opening Day.

Mr. Busch conceded that much of the heavy lifting this year is done and that most of the remaining items are headed to conference committees, where disagreements between the House and Senate are hashed out before sending bills to the governor.

Asked what was left for lawmakers to debate, he said, “For all intents and purposes, most things are in conference or not contentious.”

Delegate Susan W. Krebs agreed.

“Unless something pops out of the woodwork, I don’t see anything major coming up,” said Mrs. Krebs, Carroll County Republican.

Legislators agreed in February to set higher emissions standards for cars, starting in model year 2011. Last month, they voted to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, and the minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill are expected to be reconciled with little difficulty.

Asked if the ban would be difficult to negotiate, Delegate Peter A. Hammen, Baltimore Democrat, scoffed.

“That’s going to be in our rearview mirror,” he said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, gave lawmakers a slate of bills that largely passed with Republican and Democratic support.

The two initiative on which lawmakers did not agree with Mr. O’Malley — abolishing the death penalty and setting a higher minimum wage for companies seeking state contracts — were technically not part of his legislative agenda.

Among the biggest remaining questions is whether lawmakers will leave without agreeing to some type of health care legislation. The House and the Senate have passed vastly different proposals for improving access to health insurance, and it my be too late to settle the matter this term.

The two chambers also haven’t agreed on a development fee that could raise $130 million a year for Chesapeake Bay restoration.

The House approved a bill yesterday to bypass the Electoral College, which would give the state’s 10 electoral votes for president to the winner of the national popular vote. The 85-54 vote makes Maryland the first state in which lawmakers have voted for the change.

Other states also are considering the idea to avoid a scenario in which a candidate wins the most votes nationwide but loses the election, as Democrat Al Gore did in 2000. The plan would only take effect after enough states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes adopted it. An O’Malley spokesman said the governor plans to sign the bill.

Delegate Susan C. Lee, Montgomery Democrat, said the light workload in the final days of the 2007 General Assembly session is a result of lawmakers working hard earlier in the year.

“We’ve moved really rapidly this session,” she said. But Mrs. Lee also knows that as long as lawmakers are in Annapolis, a debate can spark, which is why she didn’t predict a quiet final few days.

“It’ll be hectic,” she said.

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