ANNAPOLIS – At the beginning of Maryland’s General Assembly session, Gov. Robert Ehrlich stormed in with a short, but controversial slate of proposals to revamp Maryland government. Now that agenda is crumbling, leaving questions as to what will remain when the Legislature adjourns in April. In his State of the State address, delivered in late January, Ehrlich outlined five major initiatives, four of which were translated into legislation: legalized slot machines, tougher gun laws, charter schools and a reformed juvenile justice system. Now the Senate has dumped his slots proposal in favor of one to be crafted by Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County, and swapped his charter schools bill for a more watered-down version drafted by Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s. The juvenile justice bill is locked up in the Finance Committee, where the chairman said it will stay until senators get a look at the budget proposal. And the gun-crime initiative, Project Exile, is trapped in a committee headed by the lawmaker who led a successful campaign to reject one of Ehrlich’s campaign appointments: Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery. With administration bills in choppy water legislators are beginning to wonder: “Where are the governor’s lobbyists?” “I think they need to get their act together . . . because my name’s on the bill,” said Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, of his sponsorship of Project Exile. Brochin and other Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee members said they haven’t seen much of Ehrlich’s legislative representatives.
Ehrlich Project Exile lobbyist, Don Hogan, said he is making the push for tougher gun laws.
“The two respective chairmen have some concerns, but we’re trying to work with them,” Hogan said. Outside a House hearing on Project Exile Thursday Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said the Ehrlich team was working “by the seat of their pants.” The bill is unlikely to make it out of committee, said the House Judiciary Chairman himself, Joseph Vallario, D-Calvert. “We already have mandatory minimum sentencing,” Vallario said about the governor’s bill, which would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.
The governor’s charter schools bill also took a dive in the Senate where lawmakers advanced a similar, although weaker version, Friday. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, offered no solace for the governor.
“The chief executive’s bill was disposed of summarily,” said Miller, who has referred to Ehrlich’s staff as a “band of wandering gypsies.”
Dilip Paliath, the governor’s lobbyist for charter schools, said he’s confident the House will pass a bill, even though he hasn’t quite figured out the subcommittee hearing process yet.
“The administration has taken a very visible stance,” Paliath said. “It’s part of an education process.”
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has actively pushed charter schools and Paliath said some more public events with the lieutenant governor are planned. Legislators on the Ways and Means committee, where the bill must pass through, are unsure about the administration level of attention to the bill.
“They’re on the right track with charter schools,” said Delegate David Boschert, R-Anne Arundel. “I think they’re kind of preoccupied with slots.”
Meanwhile the governor’s plan to reform the state juvenile justice is stuck in committee in both chambers.
Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, who is waiting to hear firm budget numbers before he releases the governor’s bill, said he hasn’t seen the administration push for the bill.
Miller said he wasn’t surprised that the governor wasn’t boosting the rest of his legislative package that much.
“There’s a laissez-faire, sort of hands-off attitude,” Miller said. “He’s not really involved.” – 30 – CNS-3-14-03