- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - The Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday approved a measure to create a scoring system outlining priorities for transportation projects.

The 84-51 vote came after debate between Democrats, who contend the change is needed to increase transparency in the state’s transportation funding process, and Republicans who argued it would erode local input.

While the measure wouldn’t prevent the governor from financing projects that don’t score highly, it would require an explanation for not following the scoring system in allocating funds for projects.

“This is about lining up our largest projects with our shared priorities,” said Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery. “This bill allows the people of this state to see why one project was prioritized over another.”

Republicans have criticized the measure as a response from Democrats who control the legislature to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision not to move forward with a proposed light rail in Baltimore. Hogan has called the project unworkable and too expensive. Hogan, who went forward with a separate light rail plan in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, has highlighted the importance of maintaining roads and bridges throughout the state.

The governor campaigned in 2014 against major cuts in state aid for roads that were made during the recession and its aftermath to help balance the budget.

Republicans said the measure passed Saturday would steer greater focus on projects in more highly populated parts of the state, at the expense of rural areas.

“This bill I believe is a slap at the attempt to move us back to a balanced transportation system,” said Del. Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert.

A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Meanwhile, a measure supporters hope will help stop declines in the bee population cleared the House on a 96-39 vote. The bill would take certain pesticides off of store shelves starting in 2018. The pesticides contain chemicals that work on the insects’ central nervous system. Recent scientific studies have pointed to problems the chemicals cause bees, but pesticide makers dispute those studies.

The Maryland Senate already has passed a separate bill. The House measure doesn’t include a provision in the Senate bill that requires the state’s agriculture department to make recommendations after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a study on the chemicals. The difference would need to be worked out and approved by both chambers to pass the legislature.

The House convened as lawmakers approach a milestone in their 90-day legislative session. Monday is known as crossover, when each house of the General Assembly aims to pass measures it intends to approve this year to the other chamber. The legislature is nearing its last three weeks of the session, which is scheduled to end April 11 at midnight.

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