- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The 2007 General Assembly is two weeks from ending and Maryland lawmakers appear content to leave the tough decisions until next year.

Members of the Democrat-controlled legislature will likely leave April 9 after making changes to existing laws on criminal penalties and environmental restrictions, but without resolving the state’s $1.5 billion structural deficit.

“No heavy lifting has been done this year in terms of the fiscal problems facing the state,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “That will have the effect next year of more than doubling the pain.”

Legislators met yesterday to pass the final round of bills to the opposite chamber, a late-session tradition known as “Crossover Day.”

Tougher penalties for convicted sex offenders, stricter car-emissions standards and a new presidential-primary date all appear ready for the signature of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

While lawmakers have debated new taxes, legalized slots and spending caps, none of the three budget fixers is expected to pass this session.

Lawmakers also are still negotiating a statewide smoking ban and the 2008 budget, which should provide some excitement in the final days of an otherwise staid session.

“With two weeks to go, I would suspect we only have 10 percent done; a lot will be happening,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

The state Senate appears ready to kill some of the House’s most ambitious proposals: a $1 cigarette-tax increase to pay for health care for 110,000 uninsured residents and a new $2-per-square-foot development fee that would have largely hit development in rural counties.

Republicans won a surprise victory this year by moving out of the House and Senate tougher penalties for convicted sex offenders, named “Jessica’s Law.”

“It’s clear who led this effort,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

One of Mr. O’Malley’s bills, mandating the state to pay more for education through the “geographic cost-of-education index” is likely to fail because of its cost.

Lawmakers are still split on Mr. O’Malley’s proposals to defer payment on the Intercounty Connector road project and increase funding for stem-cell research to $25 million.

“The session’s not over yet,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. “We’ve made considerable progress on a number of issues, and we look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly.”

Bills that failed this session included proposals to stop illegal aliens from getting driver’s licenses, an attempt to ban assault weapons and attempts to repeal and expand the death penalty.

Republicans and Democrats appear to agree unanimously on one resolution — apologizing for Maryland’s role in slavery.

The resolution would make Maryland the second state, after Virginia, to formally apologize for slavery.

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