- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | While roughly 800 bills won the approval of the Maryland General Assembly by midnight Monday, more than 1,500 measures went nowhere.

For at least another year, Maryland still has no public campaign-finance system, doesn't allow gay marriage and has no civil penalties for Medicaid fraud. Maryland governors can still appoint people to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, despite attempts by some lawmakers to take that power away after the allegations against former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich scared state legislators across the country.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, backed several bills that weren't approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature, including penalties for people who make false health claims and requiring law enforcement to request drivers in fatal accidents take an alcohol breath test.

In addition, a House committee on Saturday rejected Mr. O'Malley's high-profile effort that would have given state regulators more authority to direct utilities to build new power plants and restore some of the rules lost when Maryland deregulated in 1999.

The House Economic Matters Committee voted 21-2 against the bill after many members said they did not get enough time to review the legislation and felt rushed to make a complicated and wide-ranging decision.

Mr. O'Malley said Tuesday the state has spent two years examining the issue.

“It's hardly new to anybody, and those that complained that they hadn't read the bill should have sat down and read the bill,” Mr. O'Malley said. “So hopefully over the summer they will, because there's not going to be any energy relief for people until we give the Public Service Commission more authority to compel the issue of generation.”

The governor, like advocates for other failed measures, promises the bill will be back next year.

Lawmakers also did not close a loophole in federal law that requires fur garments to be labeled, unless there's less than $150 worth of fur used in the clothing. The bill sponsored by Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat, means one could be wearing Fido's fur - not faux fur - for another year without realizing it.

Opponents tried to paint the bill as animal rights legislation, but supporters said it was common sense for all consumers.

“It's a little bill that was right there and lost by one vote in a House committee vote,” Miss Pugh said. “You think about children and allergies, and more clothing coming into this country with fur trim, and that's why I saw this as something I needed to champion to protect people.”

Some lawmakers worried other measures left behind could have even greater consequences.

Senators delayed debate on a bill that would limit liability of buildings and corporate entities that make defibrillators available for use when somebody goes into cardiac arrest, and the clock ran out before the measure could come up for a vote. Currently, only facilities that have their defibrillators registered with the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems can receive immunity from lawsuits.

“We need to use defibrillators more often, because they really do save lives,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery Democrat. “This bill would have encouraged people not to be afraid to do so.”

State lawmakers made it easier to take guns from domestic abusers, but resisted efforts to make it easier for victims to get handgun permits themselves. The House of Delegates also rejected a bill that would have allowed people to expunge requests for domestic protective orders from public records, if the orders against them are ultimately dropped.

And for the second year in a row, there was no action in either chamber on a gay-marriage measure or a bill that would ban discrimination against transgendered people in housing and employment.

“We're very sad they didn't pass this year,” said Kate Runyon, executive director of gay rights group Equality Maryland, but she added that the group will continue to pursue the issues. “We want to continue moving forward. We want our entire community to be liberated and also seen as equal in this state.”

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