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Inching closer to a special session

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley and General Assembly leaders are getting closer to calling a special legislative session for the week of May 14. But they’re not ready yet.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, left, and Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch, D-District 30, take their seats at the start of a bill signing ceremony at the State House in Annapolis

O’Malley and the presiding officers of the legislature signed 294 bills in the second bill-signing ceremony since the legislature adjourned with an unwanted “doomsday” budget in place, but the trio did not announce the date for a special session where lawmakers would attempt to avert some $500 million in spending cuts to education, programs and services.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said there would be an agreement to bring legislators back to Annapolis on May 14, and lawmakers could expect to be in the State House until as late as May 16.

But an O’Malley spokeswoman downplayed Miller’s proclamation, saying May 14 was the “target” date for a special session, but that there was not yet a firm agreement on that day between Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

O’Malley has said he will call for the special session whenever the presiding officers are ready.

It appeared an agreement was close Wednesday morning, when the governor told a crowd at the Board of Public Works meeting that he had received some good news on his cell phone.

“There’s some white smoke coming out of the College of Cardinals,” O’Malley said, referring to the stream of white smoke sent out of a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican when a decision is made on a new pope.

But apparently the smoke didn’t mean lawmakers had made a decision on how and when to pass a revenue package to fund the fiscal 2013 budget, as the governor said at the meeting’s conclusion that “we still have a long way to go.”

Without a special session announcement, O’Malley, Miller and Busch spent more than two hours posing for photographs and signing legislation passed by the General Assembly this year. O’Malley was especially proud of a package of bills that he said would make the Chesapeake “a much healthier bay.”

“We’ve had one of the more successful sessions in recent memory for the bay and our environment because we choose together to create a Maryland that is smart, green and growing,” O’Malley said in a statement.

The trio also signed HB 443, which creates the framework for a public marketplace to provide health care to uninsured Marylanders. A bill was passed in 2011 to create the health care exchange — part of federal health care reform — but this year’s legislation sets up regulations to run the program.

Another bill, cross-filed as SB 433 and HB 964, makes it illegal for employers to ask their employees for login and password information for websites like Facebook. Maryland is the only state with such a law.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick and Washington, sponsored the Senate version and Del. Mary L. Washington, D-Baltimore City, was lead sponsor of the House bill.

“This bill is a giant step forward for online privacy,” Washington said in a statement. “As companies and employers search more and more aggressively and creatively into our social media lives, it’s a protection consumers and working people across the state need very much.”

The legislation was inspired by Robert Collins, who was asked by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide his login information during a reinstatement interview in 2010. Collins did not have to surrender the information after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sent a letter, objecting on his behalf.