- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) For Maryland lawmakers, sweeping, controversial proposals are out in this year’s General Assembly session. Manageable, unlikely-to-offend measures are in.

After a divisive special Assembly session in which taxes were increased, health care reform was debated and a new environmental program was added, the lawmakers say they are worn out and looking for smaller, less flashy measures this session. Halfway through, few controversial proposals appear headed toward approval.

“We’re hung over, to tell you the truth, and we haven’t caught up yet,” said Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, a top-ranking Baltimore Democrat.

Though proposals to ban the death penalty and address same-sex “marriage” have been introduced, lawmakers are expected to concentrate efforts this term on less glamorous topics such as energy efficiency and mortgage-lending reform.

There’s plenty of time for lawmakers to take up meatier topics, and the closing days of any session get busy. But so far, it appears unlikely this term will have the intense, round-the-clock politicking that marked the special session in which lawmakers raised $1.3 billion in new taxes.

“I think there is some legislative fatigue from the special session,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “It was intense.”

This year’s legislative agenda is light from the top. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has proposed a modest slate for lawmakers to consider, compared to his plans last fall to overhaul the state budget, allow the legalization of slot machine gambling and pour millions into a health-insurance expansion and a new fund devoted to restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

This year, the governor’s slate includes measures to reform mortgage-lending practices and to boost energy efficiency. They may be important, complex initiatives, but they don’t carry the kind of flash-point interest with the public that a proposal to legally recognize same-sex couples or renew efforts to defeat the death penalty would have.

Mr. O’Malley’s agenda asks lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Assembly to agree to less divisive plans. After asking them to pass new taxes in the special session during a time of year when they usually are at home Mr. O’Malley has applied less pressure to take up tough subjects.

“He is realizing he has precious little political capital left, and he is hiding in the bunker and only pops his head out when he has something popular to say to the public,” said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, the House’s second-ranking Republican.

Democrats insist the governor’s package is ambitious and that lawmakers aren’t as tired as they seem.

“The legislature’s a little bit fatigued,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat. “But that being said, I don’t see any lack of gusto to take up controversial topics.”

Several lawmakers said some sleeper issue remain in the session including a plan to cap carbon emissions to address global warming or a measure to overhaul state zoning laws for development near water. But they cautioned that it’s far too early to conclude the session has no hot-button issues.

“It’s still kind of early,” said Delegate Talmadge Branch, Baltimore Democrat who pointed out that hundreds of bills haven’t even had public hearings yet. “It’ll get real busy very soon, and you’ll find all sorts of things that take an interesting turn.”

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