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Dwyer left without committee seat in Assembly

Del. Don Dwyer, already serving weekend jail time after his second alcohol-related offense, is now a lawmaker without a committee in Annapolis.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch removed the Anne Arundel County Republican from the House Ways & Means Committee on Thursday and declined to give him a seat on another committee. It is one of the harshest punishments that can be imposed on a legislator short of expulsion. Dwyer will be the only lawmaker among 47 Maryland senators and 141 delegates without a committee assignment.

Busch, who acted on the second day of the General Assembly's 2014 session, said he was doing so "to protect the integrity of the House of Delegates."

Dwyer, 55, was convicted of drunken driving in October and sentenced to 30 consecutive weekends in jail. That guilty finding followed a previous conviction in an August 2012 incident in which Dwyer was found to have been operating a boat while under the influence at the time of a two-vessel crash on the Magothy River. Six people, including Dwyer, were injured.

After the first conviction, Busch removed Dwyer from the Judiciary Committee, which considers drunken-driving legislation, and assigned him to the tax-writing Ways & Means panel.

Dwyer, in an interview Thursday, said he would not resign from the General Assembly and intends to participate in its work as much as he can. He promised constituents that he would "continue to review every piece of legislation" and keep up with the issues.

"The only thing I'm prohibited from doing is sitting in the seat and voting on the committee," he said. "If I have a question, I'm certainly going to ask it."

Dwyer said the penalty was "warranted" and that he was not in a position to disagree with Busch's action. But he added that he intends to run for a fourth term in this year's election.

While Dwyer can continue to vote, introduce bills and speak on the floor, most of any legislator's work is done in committee. Typically, during the first two-thirds of the annual 90-day session, there is a modest workload on the floor and lawmakers spend long afternoons in committee hearings and voting sessions.

The watchdog group Common Cause Maryland welcomed Busch's action but said expulsion would be the better alternative.

"We believe that an elected official who is serving time should not maintain his seat and should not be voting on behalf of the public," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the group's executive director. "It is not fair to his constituents to not have a voice on the committee and that they cannot reach him on weekends."

Dwyer dismissed the suggestion that his weekends at the Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie interfere with his constituent service. He said constituents can still leave him messages on weekends and that he will return calls on Mondays as he always has.

Dwyer's punishment is the harshest imposed by the General Assembly on one of its members since the Senate expelled Baltimore Democrat Larry Young in 1998 after finding he used his public office for private gain. Young was stripped of his committee assignment the week before the expulsion vote.

Sen. Ulysses Currie was censured by his colleagues in 2012 and stripped of leadership positions after admitting to violations of ethics rules following an acquittal on federal corruption charges. But the Prince George's County Democrat was permitted to retain his seat on the powerful Budget & Taxation Committee.

In a statement, Busch said Dwyer's actions "have reflected poorly on the House and, as speaker, I feel it is important that there are consequences to those actions. I hope that Delegate Dwyer is finding help but we cannot allow the general public to lose confidence in the effectiveness of their leaders."

One of the most conservative members of the House, before his legal troubles, Dwyer was best known for his staunch opposition to expanded rights for gay Marylanders. A former defense company employee, he earns $43,500 a year as a part-time legislator.

Dwyer said Thursday that he believes his chances of winning re-election are good. He said constituents routinely approach him to say they appreciate the way he fights for his causes.

Aides to Busch said the speaker discussed the penalty with Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County before taking the action. Kipke had previously said that he would resign if he were in Dwyer's position. At least two other GOP House colleagues of Dwyer, including gubernatorial candidate Ron George of Anne Arundel, called for him to resign after his second arrest.

Kipke said Thursday that he had never specifically called on Dwyer to resign and regarded his legal troubles as a matter "between the delegate and his voters." Asked about Busch's action, the GOP leader said he deferred to Dwyer's decision to accept the sanction. Kipke added that Dwyer has apologized to the Republican caucus for what he's put his colleagues through.

Since the recent redistricting, Dwyer lives in the two-member District 31B along with Kipke. Two other Republicans have already filed to run in the June primary, assuring that Dwyer will face a challenge. He has until Feb. 25 to file candidacy papers.

Kipke said Thursday that he will not run on a ticket with his district colleague in the primary.

"It's better that the people decide the outcome of the election," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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