GOP fails to change three rules in House

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland's Republican delegates failed yesterday in a push for rule changes they said would elevate them from second-class citizenship, but which Democrats claimed would bring new partisanship to Annapolis.

The Republicans requested new rules of procedure for the House that would have guaranteed the minority party a seat on the committees that negotiate final legislative language with the Senate.

They also asked that the minority leader be allowed to decide the committee assignments for members of his party, and that their staff members be permitted on the House floor during debates. All three proposals failed, largely on party lines.

Democrats have about a 2-1 advantage in the House, and Republicans complained that the majority party's definition of "bipartisanship" has been for members of the minority to keep their mouths shut.

"It's institutional discrimination against the minority party," said Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican. "These rules are part and parcel of a plantation mentality."

The proposals stem in part from bitterness over how House Speaker Michael E. Busch handled debate on a medical malpractice bill in the last session and his decision to switch Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell from the Judiciary Committee, where he served for 10 years, to the Appropriations Committee, in apparent retaliation for O'Donnell's call for Democrats to unseat the speaker.

Republicans later showed their displeasure with Busch by refusing to vote yes or no on his re-election as speaker.

But GOP delegates said they have been contemplating asking for such changes for months. A similar effort is under way in the Senate.

Del. George C. Edwards, the House minority leader, said that putting one Republican on conference committees, which usually have three members, would ensure that all views in the House are represented in negotiations with the Senate

Allowing the minority leader to designate committee assignments would ensure delegates' talents are used most effectively, and enabling Republicans' staff on the floor would help minority members to get information during debates, Edwards said.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve of Montgomery County said all three were bad ideas that would inject unnecessary partisanship into the legislature.

"This rule change flies in the face of nearly 400 years of Anglo-American parliamentary procedure," Barve said. "The majority organizes the chamber."

Republican senators also are proposing rule changes in the upper chamber, which will be debated next week.

Senate Republicans -- outnumbered 33-14 -- also want the ability to name their members to standing committees and want the minority leader to have the authority to name a ranking GOP member of each committee who would serve as a point-person for communications.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus of the Eastern Shore said the changes are necessary in the current era of divided government.

"Before we had a Republican governor, Republicans were just looked at as a nuisance," Stoltzfus said. "We're a shared government now, and we have to operate like one."

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