- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Maryland Senate approved emergency legislation Saturday to give Maryland eminent domain authority to keep the Preakness Stakes in Maryland, in hopes the measure will strengthen the state’s hand to avoid losing the race through a federal bankruptcy case.

The Senate needed 29 votes, or five votes more than a simple majority, to pass the measure because it is an emergency bill. The vote was 32-14.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration characterizes the legislation as a last-resort emergency insurance policy, in case a buyer does not emerge to keep the race in Maryland. The problem stems from the federal bankruptcy case involving Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Pimlico Race Course, the home of the Preakness.

The Senate’s approval sent the bill over to the House of Delegates, which moved swiftly to give the measure preliminary approval later in the day and set the stage for a final vote on Monday — the last day of the General Assembly’s session.

The bill prompted debate in the Senate, because opponents contend it is very far-reaching.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, Howard County Republican, said the bill could have a “chilling effect” on business because it could worry owners that they couldn’t leave the state if their businesses prospered.

“Let’s say a new sports franchise wants to come here,” Mr. Kittleman said. “Why in the world would you come to Maryland if you know that, gosh, if you’re popular and people like you, they’re going to say that they own you. That’s a chilling thing to think about.”

But supporters say the race, which has been run in Baltimore for more than 100 years, is too great an economic benefit to risk losing.

“This is the once-a-year opportunity where the lights shine on Maryland and we show the greatness of Baltimore, the Baltimore region and Maryland, and we are at a stage now where we cannot risk losing the Preakness,” said Sen. Catherine Pugh, Baltimore City Democrat.

Sen. Andrew Harris, Baltimore County Republican, said he opposed the idea of giving eminent domain power over intellectual property for the first time in state law.

“The precedent here is pretty amazing, because what we’re saying is that a business can be in Maryland, we can judge that business so important that we can seize the business and, even beyond seizing the assets of the business, we can take their intellectual property,” Mr. Harris said. “Wow.”

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore County Democrat, confirmed that the Supreme Court has ruled condemnation can be used on intellectual property.

Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford County Republican, said the state needs to act, because it has allowed the struggling horse racing industry to go downhill too long.

“These tracks are sort of like a horse that we haven’t fed for about six months and he’s skin and bones and we expect him to run, and we’ve got to stop doing that,” Mr. Glassman said. “We’ve got to invest in our history and preserve this industry.”

Lawmakers are hurrying to get the bill, which was introduced Wednesday, passed before Monday’s adjournment.

Maryland contends it has a legal right to the first chance to buy the race, if it goes up for sale. But Magna has not recognized that right, and questions abound on how a federal bankruptcy court will direct the sale of assets.

A hearing on selling the assets is scheduled for April 20.

The 134th Preakness Stakes race is scheduled for May 16 at Pimlico, and the legal and legislative proceedings won’t affect it this year.

The O’Malley administration contends the race is crucial to Maryland’s struggling horse industry. It generates 20,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $1.5 billion, the administration estimates.

The bill also would allow Maryland to purchase or exercise eminent domain over Laurel Park, a racetrack in Anne Arundel County, and the Bowie Race Course Training Center. It also would apply to all rights and racing events that are associated with the Preakness, including its trophy, the Woodlawn Vase.

The Maryland Economic Development Corporation, created by the state in 1984 to help finance economic development, would be able issue bonds to acquire the property, under the legislation.

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