March 16, 2004
REPUBLICAN efforts to force lawmakers to vote on the day's hot-button social issues are running afoul of what Democratic leaders describe as the unwritten rules of the General Assembly.
Twice last week, GOP delegates offered amendments to seemingly innocuous bills with the intention of putting every member of the House on the record regarding gay marriages and rights for illegal immigrants.
In one bill to permit judges to charge higher fees for performing marriage ceremonies, Del. Gail H. Bates of Howard County proposed an amendment emphasizing that the state recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman, and that same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries are not considered valid in Maryland. The amendment failed, 52-82.
On the next bill considered by the House - this one related to commercial driver's licenses and hazardous materials - Del. Herb McMillan of Anne Arundel County offered an amendment prohibiting the state from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. That amendment failed, 42-95.
In both cases, the amendments were virtually identical to bills that had been defeated in the House Judiciary Committee. That prompted Democratic leaders to accuse Republicans of trying to circumvent the chamber's traditional rules. Three committee chairmen, the majority leader and the majority whip spoke out against McMillan's second amendment.
"What I care about is the integrity, the virtues the class of the process," said Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat. "You might not like the outcome of the ballgame, but you've got to abide by the rules. ... Having the rules is the most important thing down here."
But the House GOP whip, Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell of Southern Maryland, and other Republicans insisted that they weren't violating anything written in the House rule book. One even reminded delegates that earlier this session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller changed one of his chamber's rules regarding the number of votes to end a filibuster after Republicans were finding some success.
"Most of us like to play by the rules," O"Donnell said. "There's no rule violated here. This is exactly part of the process - offering an amendment on the floor is part of the rules."
It's unlikely the issue will go away because Republicans have indicated they'll seek similar votes to file away for future campaigns.
Two more are likely to come up this week in the Senate debate on the budget. One amendment that is offered most years seeks to limit Medicaid coverage of abortions, and another seeks to cut state funding for private school textbooks.
Maryland horse racing interests, who were on a fast track last year to get a slot machine gambling bill through the General Assembly, find themselves struggling just to stay in the hunt for slots this session.
Time, then, to roll out what was billed as an "image-building" ad campaign to give Marylanders a warm and fuzzy feeling about the importance of the state's storied racing industry.
The owner of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park began airing the ad last week in the Baltimore-Washington market.
The ad is part of a traditional spring campaign leading to the opening of the racing season at Pimlico on March 31, said Timothy T. Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club.
He wouldn't give specific numbers, but he said the jockey club has budgeted 20 percent more for the ad campaign than last year and is spending more than $100,000 on the effort.
"It doesn't mention slots," Capps said. "It's strictly an ad highlighting the racing industry in Maryland. We wanted to create a feel-good ad about Maryland racing. It's an image-building thing."
The ad shows footage of horse farms, people who work the backstretch and other pastoral scenes.
Nary a sign, of course, of the kind of glittering, mammoth slots casinos that the tracks' owners hope to build, similar to ones run by track owners in Delaware and West Virginia.
Said Capps: "Our position on the slots issue has been clear for a very long time, so we're not hiding anything."
A bill sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, would add donations from related companies for the purpose of calculating donation limits. Currently, some politically connected business owners make the maximum $4,000 donations from several corporations they control, a tactic that some believe violates the spirit of the law.
Another bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Barry Glassman of Harford County, would require campaign committees formed to assist multiple candidates - known as slates - to specify on whose behalf an expenditure is made.
"It would let people connect the dots between money that goes into a slate, gets mixed, and then gets spent," said James Browning, the executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.
Common Cause backs both bills and argued before the House Ways and Means Committee last week that they should be combined into one package.
"The truth is that both parties are using both loopholes," Browning said.
Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this column.
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