Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Senate OKs state speed camera bill

Chambers differ on how much revenue would go to local governments

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ANNAPOLIS — A bill to allow cameras to be used to catch speeders statewide passed the Senate on Monday.

But Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, whose Environmental Matters Committee considered the bill, said Tuesday that a few details of the bill have to be worked out between the chambers before it goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

The House of Delegate passed a bill two weeks ago to allow police to install speed cameras in work areas, school zones and residential areas in the state’s 23 other jurisdictions.

The Senate bill allows the same thing, with fines up to $40 for speeders and no points on their driving record.

But the Senate version allows local governments to keep only enough money collected from fines to keep the cameras operational. The House wants the local governments to be able to keep all of the revenue, said McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.

McIntosh’s committee also killed a bill that would have banned the hand-held use of cell phones while driving passed.

The bill had passed the Senate two weeks ago.

‘‘I think it’ll be back next year,” McIntosh said. ‘‘I support eliminating the use of cell phones [while driving].”

Prince George’s hospital deal still in limbo

Prince George’s senators are still negotiating with Prince George’s County Council, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office the details of a deal to keep the Prince George’s hospital system open.

‘‘There doesn’t seem to be any deal breakers,” said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, the county’s Senate delegation chairman.

The system, which includes Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Bowie Health Center and Laurel Regional Hospital, is owned by the county and managed by nonprofit Dimensions Healthcare.

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is seeking three amendments to that would ‘‘fundamentally alter” a bill passed by the House last week, Del. Doyle L. Niemann said.

Under the deal, the state and county would each pay $12 million for each of the next two fiscal years to get a new owner for the troubled hospital system up and running. The bill also creates a seven-member hospital authority with three members appointed by each the county and O’Malley and one member appointed jointly by presiding officers in the House and Senate.

The Senate delegation is considering the amendments, which would remove a 60-day deadline for state and county elected officials to agree on funding commitments if the plan moved forward and a new owner was found.

The second would require a new owner to take all of the hospital system’s facilities, not pick and choose.

The third would require the hospital authority to draft a budget for its $1.5 million share. The budget would be subject to county and state approval.

Muse could not provide details of the negotiations on Tuesday.

Niemann said Tuesday that he opposes another amendment, which would extend the payment timeline to three years.

‘‘That leaves things where they are with Band Aid solutions and no agreement that there will be a deal ...,” said Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier. ‘‘If you give people a way out they’ll use it.”

Debate continues on local campaign finance

A bill to allow Montgomery County to set its own campaign finance rules must pass a senate committee scheduled to debate the proposal Thursday.

The bill, proposed by Del. Susan C. Lee (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, would allow the Montgomery County Council to establish a system of public campaign finance for council and executive candidates, as well as set campaign spending limits for candidates participating in the voluntary system.

The House passed the bill 137-0 with amendments from the county’s House delegation. Senators had been concerned about rules regarding candidates receiving the public funds being able to run on a ticket with other candidates not receiving the funding.

If the bill passes out of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee with amendments, a compromise would have to be reached between committees from both chambers.