News Briefs from Around the State

Mikulski Rails Against House Budget Bill

WASHINGTON — From the floor of the U.S. Senate — with a fresh Ash Wednesday smudge on her forehead — Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., railed against the House Republicans' proposed budget bill, H.R. 1.

"I'm not going to stand for further pummeling of the middle class," Mikulski said.

About an hour after Mikulski finished speaking, the Senate defeated the measure along party lines. The House bill, a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded until the end of the 2011 fiscal year, included about $57 billion in cuts.

The Senate also defeated the Democrats' budget cut proposal Wednesday. The Democrats' failed plan sliced less than $6 billion from the federal budget.

Current funding for government operations is approved through March 18.

Mikulski opposed the Republican plan because it cut education grants, transportation funding and scientific research.

In particular, Mikulski said that cuts to the Food and Drug Administration — headquartered in Silver Spring — would create a backlog of approvals for drugs and medical devices. Slowing the FDA approval process would have a domino effect on private biotech firms, Mikulski said, and create job losses.

Before making her prepared remarks, Mikulski responded to comments made by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who spoke before her in support of the Republican bill.

Coburn supported his party's budget proposal in part because it reduced spending on overlapping government programs.

Mikulski said Coburn was blaming the Obama administration for duplicative spending that proceeded throughout the George W. Bush years when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

"Let's end the duplication," Mikulski said, "but let's end the duplicity in the way we talk about the duplication."

— By Capital News Service's Steve Kilar

Prince George's Council Member Johnson Scheduled for Court

Prince George's County Council member Leslie Johnson is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday, a day after her husband, former county executive Jack Johnson, is set to appear.

Leslie Johnson will be in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt for a preliminary hearing Wednesday at 4 p.m. Preliminary hearings have been postponed twice, the first time in December. The most recent postponement came in early February, when the 6th District Democrat requested more time to prepare.

Hardy Vieux, Leslie Johnson's lawyer, declined to comment.

She faces charges of witness tampering and destruction of evidence in an FBI corruption probe, according to court documents. Federal prosecutors have until the day of the preliminary hearing to indict Leslie Johnson. If indicted, the preliminary hearing would be canceled and an arraignment would be scheduled in federal court.

U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Vickie E. Leduc would not comment on the likelihood of an indictment.

Jack Johnson is scheduled in court Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. to enter a plea. He was indicted on eight counts, including bribery, on Feb. 14.

Jack Johnson's lawyer, Billy Martin, did not respond to a phone message.

- By Maryland Newsline's Alexander Pyles

More Immigration Debate Expected

ANNAPOLIS - After a charged three-hour morning debate, the Senate on Wednesday adopted the favorable committee report on in-state tuition for undocumented students, but will be back for more debate at 5 p.m.

The time was largely spent on debate over a committee amendment clarifying that undocumented students would be required to first attend the community college that services their high school for an associate's degree or 60 credits. There had previously been confusion over whether undocumented students could shop around the state for a community college to attend at in-county tuition rates.

The amendment, clarifying that they could not, passed 26-20.

Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil, said she has at least nine amendments lined up for the evening's debate, but could prepare more before they assemble.

Concerns raised included the increased cost of providing state aid for community colleges, estimated at almost $800,000 in 2014 and $3.5 million in 2016, depending on how many students take advantage of the law.

Although opponents say the bill would be too expensive, supporters say the legislative analysis doesn't take into account the benefits of a larger population of college graduates, including increased revenues from income taxes.

"How do you put a value on a college education?" asked Senate President Mike Miller.

The law requires that students attend a Maryland high school for two years, graduate from a Maryland high school, apply within four years of graduation, and attend their local community college until they receive an associate's degree. In order to continue receiving in-state tuition, students must then enroll in a public, four-year institution within four years of attaining an associate's degree or 60 credits.

Students, or their parents or guardians, must show that taxes have been filed during that time. Students must also submit an affidavit testifying that they will apply for legal status within 30 days of becoming eligible.

Opponents of the bill argued that the bill was an unfunded mandate for the local governments that fund community colleges, that students would be incriminating themselves or their parents by revealing their immigration status through tax filings, and that the state would be violating federal law by enacting the legislation.

Supporters, led by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, said that local governments determine how to fund their community colleges, that the Internal Revenue does not enforce legal status and therefore students will not be incriminating themselves, and that 10 other states have already enacted similar legislation.

Four of those states are considering repealing those laws.

Opponents also argued that the law would be unfair for legal residents and citizens, giving space and resources to undocumented students.

Testimony on the House of Delegates' version of the bill is being heard in committee Wednesday.

— By Capital News Service's Holly Nunn

In-state Tuition Debate Begins in Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS - The debate over allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition is heating up in the Senate.

The full Senate started debating the bill a little over an hour ago, and opponents already ?have tried to bounce the bill back to committee and delay further debate until Thursday so they can ready more amendments. The Senate rejected both.

The debate grew contentious when Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne's, led the charge to have the proposal sent to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee because it has a fiscal note that wasn't previously considered.

According to the fiscal note, the proposal would cost the state nearly $800,000 in fiscal 2014. That jumps to about $3.5 million by fiscal 2016.

Opponents argued that any bill that could negatively affect state coffers should be considered first by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

At one point, Senate President Mike Miller resorted to his gavel to quiet Pipkin.

"I didn't think there was a fiscal note," Miller said, moments before the his gavel came down. "You're not recognized."

The motion to bounce the bill back to committee failed by a 33-14 vote.

Shortly after, Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs tried to "special order" the bill, which would essentially delay debate until Thursday, ?so that opponents could prepare more amendments.

That motion failed 33-13, but not before senators gave us a snapshot of the contentious debate ahead.

We need to "try and keep this debate as nice as the previous debate on a contentious" bill, Miller said, referencing the relatively smooth ride a same-sex marriage proposal received in the Senate two weeks ago.

Jacobs responded: "That's not going to happen, Mr. President."

—By Capital News Service's David Saleh Rauf

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