General Assembly wraps up at midnight today
Associated Press – Cumberland Times
— ANNAPOLIS — Maryland utilities would have to buy more power from solar energy sources under a bill the state’s House of Delegates approved Saturday, but lawmakers still have to work out differences before the bill is final.
House and Senate lawmakers disagree on how much solar energy utilities should be required to buy and the amount of money they would pay for not complying. The House version approved Saturday takes a more modest approach.
Both bills would increase the cost of citizens’ electricity bills — though only by pennies a month in the next few years. The House bill is less expensive for taxpayers. It would increase residential electricity bills by an estimated 5 cents per month next year and 66 cents per month for the average commercial ratepayer. The amount goes up each year, resulting in an increase of 77 cents per month for residents and $9.57 for commercial ratepayers in 2016.
The Senate version would cost more. The cost added to an electric bill would grow from 5 cents per month next year to $1.38 in 2016 for residential ratepayers, compared to 66 cents a month next year to $17.23 in 2016 for commercial ratepayers.
Supporters say the bill, which passed on a vote of 109-31 Saturday, will help create jobs in solar energy while also protecting the environment by encouraging more of a shift to renewable energy.
“It’s a pro-jobs vote, and it certainly falls in line with the many good incentives and initiatives that we have taken, quite honestly, that began at the end of the last administration and throughout this administration that are good for the environment,” said Delegate Brian McHale, D-Baltimore.
But opponents said it would only make already high electric bills even more costly, and they disputed the notion that it would create jobs.
“It makes life harder for U.S. manufacturing companies be-cause it makes our products more expensive than products being made in other countries,” said Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel.
Complying with the bills would cost suppliers $185 million through 2016 under the House bill while the costs under the Senate proposal would be $1.2 billion through 2026.
The debate came on a rare Saturday session for both the House and Senate as the Legislature caught up on work while preparing to adjourn Monday at midnight.
The Maryland General Assembly also wrapped up work on the state’s $13.2 billion operating budget after the House voted 105-34 to approve changes made by House and Senate negotiators in a conference committee. The Senate already has signed off on the changes.
The fiscal year 2011 budget relies on a mix of cuts, one-time spending transfers from reserve accounts and federal stimulus money to close a $2 billion gap.
Democratic supporters of the plan say the budget responsibly reduces spending while protecting critical investments in education, and they point out that the economy appears to be stabilizing. Republican critics say lawmakers didn’t cut enough and are paving the way for tax increases next year when federal stimulus money runs out.
Also on Saturday the Senate passed legislation that would add special coding to sex offenders’ driver’s licenses, something lawmakers say will help officials keep tabs on them. Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, who sponsored the amendment, says it would alert police to ask more questions if they stop a registered sex offender with a child. The House still has to approve the legislation. Maryland senators also voted to legalize medical marijuana, but the measure is not expected to pass the House of Delegates.