- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

ANNAPOLIS | Legislators gave final approval Monday night to a bill allowing in-state tuition for many illegal immigrants and battled late into the evening over an increase in the state alcohol sales tax, as the General Assembly concluded its 90-day session.

The House voted 77-62 in favor of a Senate bill increasing the tax rate from 6 percent to 9 percent this summer, sending the legislation back to the Senate for final approval.

The Senate was expected to consider House changes to the bill the most notable of which was an immediate 3-percentage-point hike, rather than 1-percentage-point increases in each of the next three years before the Assembly adjourned at midnight.

Another fight was also brewing over how the state would use the tax’s expected $85 million in first-year revenue. A companion bill that would dedicate $47.5 million to school construction passed the House Monday afternoon after a heated debate and was set to be considered Monday night in the Senate.

The companion bill did not hit the House floor until Saturday night, and Republicans argued both it and the tax increase were being hastily forced through the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“They’ve cut off debate and didn’t allow us the opportunity to offer amendments,” said Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican. “They’re really just ramming things through.”

Legislators gave final approval Monday night to a bill allowing marijuana users to claim medical necessity as a defense and to the DREAM Act, which allows in-state tuition for many college-aged illegal immigrants who come from tax-paying families.

Democrats saved the bill from a serious setback Monday afternoon, when the Senate refused to concur with House amendments to the bill.

The Senate and House met later that day in a conference committee and negotiated their differences, eliminating a House amendment allowing students in emergency circumstances to be exempt from a requirement that they or a guardian pay income tax in all three years prior to the student entering college.

The Senate and House each approved the new version of the bill Monday night.

“I think that everybody should have an education,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat. “It is not the students’ fault that they are here undocumented.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley received a much-needed victory Monday night, as the House agreed to Senate changes on a bill establishing the Invest Maryland program, a venture capital initiative that will allow insurance companies to buy $75 million in tax credits in return for their investment in technology startup companies.

The bill was one of Mr. O’Malley’s marquee proposals in a session where several other bills of his failed, including proposals for an effective ban on new septic systems and a statewide wind-energy program.

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