GOP says change to rule a proxy for eminent domainGaithersburg MD Business Gazette,2/7/07

But Senate Democrats prevail in technical change to the chamber’s procedure

By Douglas Tallman

[Maryland] Senate Democrats on Tuesday pushed through a technical change in the way the chamber handles legislation — a proxy war, Republicans maintain, over whether local governments should have the right to seize property for business projects.

‘‘They’re changing the rules for one bill, and I don’t think that’s the way to do things,” Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman said.

The change forbids senators from altering a bill into a proposed constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments must pass both the Senate and the House with a three-fifths majority and be approved by voters.

During the 2006 session, lawmakers were prepared to pass limitations on the government’s power of eminent domain. Democrats wanted the limits in statute; Republicans wanted the limits in the constitution. When the GOP began winning Democratic converts during floor debate, supporters of the bill pulled it from consideration.

For the 2007 session, Senate Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12) of Columbia offered a rule change that no bill could be amended into a constitutional amendment. It passed on a party-line vote.

Democratic leaders, however, said the eminent domain fight had nothing to do with the proposal and everything to do with procedure.

‘‘If there is a constitutional amendment, it should go through the committee first,” said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Dist. 41) of Baltimore.

Each General Assembly chamber has a tiny book that provides the guidelines on how legislation moves through legislature. Very little of it changes year to year, but Republicans have used it as a battleground to assert their rights.

This year, the GOP offered three proposals of its own, and each was rejected Tuesday.

‘‘This was ‘Stomp on Minority Rights Day,’” said Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Dist. 3) of Urbana.

One proposal would have allowed the minority party to make committee assignments for its members. On a voice vote, the chamber decided to make no change, with the pledge that the Democrats would consult the Republicans on assignments.

A party-line vote also refused to change the number of senators needed to end debate, now at three-fifths. Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Dist. 7) of Cockeysville proposed increasing that to two-thirds. That would have meant 19 senators would have to cut off discussion on a topic instead of the current 16. Of the 47 senators, only 14 are Republicans.

Anyone can be in the minority in a debate, Harris argued, whether the issue is gun rights, abortion or the death penalty.

Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda said three-fifths was reasonable and moderate.

Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship also proposed requiring a committee vote for every bill. He said the public gets short-changed when they testify for a measure but a committee never votes on the bill.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said a panel could have several reasons for not voting on a measure. He recalled a House committee chairman who routinely killed Senate bills. When he was Judicial Proceedings chairman, Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach said, he ignored House bills to get the House chairman to change his tactics.

That rule was voted down on a largely party-line vote.

Later, Miller said, a bill that doesn’t get a vote in committee might not be legitimate.

‘‘Or maybe a senator or delegate sponsored a bill and didn’t work ... hard enough to get a vote,” he said. ‘‘Probably from some backbencher who has done nothing and not worth the powder to blow him or her up with.”

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