Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Session 2007 Preview

The oldest state legislature in the United States is convening in Annapolis tomorrow for its 423rd session. After four years of tension between the strongly Democratic legislature and Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, Democrat Martin O’Malley will be in the Governor’s Mansion. But a couple of contentious issues could make for an interesting session, particularly since the strong-willed Assembly leadership probably won’t be as accommodating as Mayor O’Malley became accustomed to with the Baltimore City Council.

Get Your Hands Off My House, Your Paws off my Property

(We couldn’t decide on the better title)

The legislature promised to kick off the session by tackling the ground rent issue. Ground rent, an antiquated system in which investors own the land beneath buildings, became the subject of outrage following a Baltimore Sun investigative report. The problem has been most felt in Baltimore, where some of the cruelest investors have seized peoples’ homes.

Our Fearless Leaders will confront this problem first thing. Gov. O’Malley plans to meet with legislators hours before session opens to discuss possible proposals, including prohibiting home seizure and phasing out ground rents altogether. Prospects are high that this is one problem that will be sufficiently addressed.

Crime Don’t Pay

Maryland’s criminal justice system is in dire need of help. One issue moving in the right direction is the death penalty. The Court of Appeals recently issued a rejection of the state’s lethal injection procedure, leaving capital punishment itself in doubt. Incoming Gov. O’Malley is personally opposed to it, raising hopes that the racist, costly and inhumane system will return to the moratorium that was lifted by outgoing Gov. Ehrlich.

The League’s hopes aren’t as high for other criminal justice issues of particular importance to Baltimoreans, but we may see some good come out of the session. In the wake of a year in which police misconduct constantly found its way to the front pages, there are proposals to videotape suspect interrogations and automatically expunge criminal records for those who are arrested but never charged with a crime. These ideas would do wonders for fixing the broken system that wreaks the most havoc on poor areas of Baltimore, but their passage is far from certain.

Votes About Voting

Early voting has seen more ups and downs than a Pigtown whore’s skirt, but the issue may finally be resolved this time around. Legislation was originally passed in 2005, then blocked by Ehrlich in a veto that was subsequently overridden by the Democratic legislature. But the measure wasn’t done there; the Court of Appeals found it unconstitutional. If the General Assembly wants to give voters the flexibility of early voting, it only has one option: a constitutional amendment.

Paper ballots are also on the agenda following the catastrophe that was last year’s primary. Republicans may point to the same problem as a misleading justification for requiring identification at the polls. The Voter Rights Protection Act of 2007 and a bill allowing election day voter registration will also be considered.

The Road to a Cleaner Environment

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller recently indicated his support for tougher emissions standards for automobiles. Republicans will put up a losing fight on behalf of short-sighted business interests but, at the end of the day, the environment will win out on this fight.

Cleaner cars won’t get us where we need to be, however, so long as Marylanders continue to be so damn reliant on their motor vehicles. The root of the problem is suburbia. Incoming Gov. O’Malley may reinvigorate the Office of Smart Growth, an agency dedicated to fighting sprawl that was gutted under the Ehrlich administration. Our leaders must do everything in their power to encourage people to move into high-density areas and provide comprehensive public transportation to reduce reliance on cars. This is especially important as the state deals with an influx of residents as a result of the BRAC military realignment.

from The League: Reassembled


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