For O’Mal­ley, a Civil Ses­sion

Gov­er­nor Uses Diplo­macy to Pass Bills

The Washington Post Sunday - - Other Bills Being Supported - By John Wag­ner

Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley (D) has in­vited leg­isla­tive lead­ers over for break­fast. He has sum­moned law­mak­ers to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion for pizza din­ners dur­ing which his young chil­dren and fam­ily dogs com­peted for their at­ten­tion. And early in the ses­sion, he paid a shiva call fol­low­ing the death of a se­nior sen­a­tor’s fa­ther.

Since ar­riv­ing in An­napo­lis in Jan­uary, the new gov­er­nor has put a pre­mium on build­ing re­la­tion­ships with leg­is­la­tors who felt ne­glected by his pre­de­ces­sor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

With the 90-day leg­isla­tive ses­sion set to end to­mor­row, most — though not all — of the ini­tia­tives that O’Mal­ley has pushed this year are on track to be­come law, in­clud­ing a record $400 mil­lion in spend­ing on school con­struc­tion, a freeze in tu­ition at pub­lic univer­si­ties next year and tighter emis­sions stan­dards for au­to­mo­biles.

And O’Mal­ley is poised to win one more vic­tory to­mor­row if law­mak­ers vote as ex­pected on a bill to make Mary­land the first state to man­date that state con­trac­tors pay their em­ploy­ees a “liv­ing wage.”

Yet many law­mak­ers say this ses­sion is likely to be re­mem­bered as much for its civil tone as for the list of ac­com­plish­ments that O’Mal­ley aides plan to tout in ap­pear­ances across the state in com­ing months.

“His suc­cess is in the good feel­ing he has brought to An­napo­lis more so than an ex­ten­sive leg­isla­tive agenda,” said Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (DCalvert). “Could he have ac­com­plished more? Ob­vi­ously he could have if he had put the bills in.”

The scope of O’Mal­ley’s first­ses­sion leg­isla­tive agenda was cur­tailed by an in­her­ited bud­get deficit that an­a­lysts say could reach $1.5 bil­lion next year. Miller and other law­mak­ers have crit­i­cized O’Mal­ley for not do­ing more this year to ad­dress the pro­jected short­fall, and they’ve used that to deny him some vic­to­ries this year.

Among them: a pro­posal to re­quire spend­ing tens of mil­lions of ad­di­tional dol­lars a year in coun­ties, such as Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s, where the cost of pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion is higher.

Fi­nan­cial con­cerns have also im­per­iled a rel­a­tively mod­est O’Mal­ley plan to ex­pand ac­cess to health in­sur­ance, as well as a bill that would al­low la­bor unions to charge fees to non­mem­bers whose in­ter­ests they rep­re­sent at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble.

Fix­ing the bud­get next year could re­quire spend­ing cuts, tax in­creases and per­haps the le­gal­iza­tion of slot ma­chines. Aides say O’Mal­ley’s ef­forts to build good­will this ses­sion have been driven partly by a recog­ni­tion of how dif­fi­cult that task will be.

“The com­ing year will chal­lenge the best of re­la­tion­ships,” said Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles), who was among seven law­mak­ers at a pizza din­ner at the man­sion in Fe­bru­ary.

Levy de­scribed the evening as a re­laxed, get-to-know-you ses­sion with the for­mer Bal­ti­more mayor. O’Mal­ley’s two boys, ages 9 and 4, darted in and out, while his two teen girls re­mained out of sight. At one point, Levy said, he in­ter­cepted the fam­ily’s golden re­triever from par­tak­ing in the pizza.

Ehrlich made sim­i­lar ges­tures early in his term. But his re­la­tion­ship with the heav­ily Demo­cratic leg­is­la­ture grad­u­ally soured.

By the end of Ehrlich’s term, there was lit­tle col­lab­o­ra­tion with law­mak­ers. Democrats mus­cled through bills over Ehrlich ve­toes. But Democrats also fre­quently squab­bled among them­selves. In the words of one aide, O’Mal­ley joined a “dys­func­tional fam­ily” upon ar­riv­ing in An­napo­lis.

O’Mal­ley listed a num­ber of ac­com­plish­ments this ses­sion — some of which are pend­ing — in a re­cent in­ter­view. Among the most im­por­tant, he said, “is we’re reestab­lish­ing a di­a­logue that al­lows us to find com­mon ground.”

O’Mal­ley also said pun­dits can place too much em­pha­sis on leg­isla­tive wins and losses when as­sess­ing a gov­er­nor’s progress. Some of O’Mal­ley’s bold­est moves have come out­side the leg­isla­tive arena, aides said.

Last month, he an­nounced the clos­ing of the state’s 129-year-old, max­i­mum-se­cu­rity House of Cor­rec­tion in Jes­sup, a goal that eluded prior ad­min­is­tra­tions. Ear­lier, O’Mal­ley moved quickly to oust the head of the panel that reg­u­lates util­i­ties, mak­ing good on a cam­paign prom­ise.

By most ac­counts, O’Mal­ley has been per­son­ally en­gaged with law­mak­ers on bills be­ing pushed by his of­fice and on other prom­i­nent leg­is­la­tion.

Law­mak­ers said O’Mal­ley’s per­sonal in­ter­ven­tion with se­nior sen­a­tors jump-started ac­tion on the “liv­ing wage” bill, which had been stuck in a com­mit­tee for weeks. The bill would re­quire state con­trac­tors to pay em­ploy­ees at least $11.30 an hour or $8.50 an hour — well above the state’s min­i­mum wage — de­pend­ing on the re­gion in which the work is per­formed. The bill zipped through the House last week and is ex­pected to ar­rive on the Se­nate floor to­mor­row.

O’Mal­ley was also “quite in­stru­men­tal” in per­suad­ing law­mak­ers to cur­tail ex­cep­tions in a bill that bans smok­ing in bars and restau­rants statewide, said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince Ge­orge’s), chair­man of the House panel that con­sid­ered it. That bill won fi­nal ap­proval Fri­day night in the Se­nate and is ex­pected to clear the House to­mor­row.

And the com­mit­tee chair­men who shep­herded “clean cars” leg­is­la­tion through the House and the Se­nate cred­ited O’Mal­ley for per­suad­ing some mod­er­ate Democrats to sup­port the bill, which would toughen emis­sions stan­dards on au­to­mo­biles ti­tled in Mary­land.

“I’ve been here; this is my 29th year,” said Sen. Jen­nie M. Fore­hand (D-Mont­gomery), one of those who met with O’Mal­ley. “I’ve never seen a gov­er­nor lis­ten like he is.”

Fore­hand, who sup­ported O’Mal­ley’s Demo­cratic pri­mary ri­val last year, cred­ited the gov­er­nor with chang­ing the tone in An­napo­lis. “It’s give and take, and it’s not anger, and where there’s dis­agree­ment, there’s ci­vil­ity,” she said.

Repub­li­cans of­fered var­ied as­sess­ments of the tone set by O’Mal­ley but seem united in the view that he should have done more to tackle the loom­ing bud­get deficit. “We’ll see how much con­sen­sus there is when we have to foist a bil­lion and a half to 2 bil­lion in taxes on the cit­i­zens of Mary­land,” House Mi­nor­ity Leader An­thony J. O’Donnnell (R-Calvert) said.

O’Mal­ley’s high­est-profile loss of the ses­sion came on leg­is­la­tion to re­peal the death penalty. The bill, voted down by a Se­nate panel, was not part of O’Mal­ley’s pack­age of leg­is­la­tion, but the gov­er­nor took the un­usual step of tes­ti­fy­ing in fa­vor of it. Some law­mak­ers said that is­sue is not a fair gauge of O’Mal­ley’s ef­fec­tive­ness, how­ever.

Given how strongly peo­ple feel about the death penalty, “I think a heavy-handed approach would have been coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and would have of­fended peo­ple,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Mont­gomery), chair­man of the com­mit­tee that shelved the bill.

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