Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller delivered a stinging lecture to the Judicial Proceedings Committee Friday, telling its members to "work your ass off" and find a solution to the thorny issue of bail reform.
Miller, the longest-serving Senate president in U.S. history, intervened after committee members started picking apart a House bail bill being presented by Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the legislation. It is an issue that has bedeviled the General Assembly since 2012, when the Court of Appeals said lawyers must be provided to defendants at every stage of the bail review process in a case called DeWolfe vs. Richmond.
Since then, the House and Senate have been unable to agree on anything but stopgap answers to the question of how to pay for the cost of providing legal representation.
"It's been two years of hell. Nothing gets done," Miller told committee Chairman Bobby Zirkin and the other senators on the panel.
After denouncing the Richmond decision as "wrong" and "inappropriate," Miller told committee members that it's their job to work with their House counterparts and come up with a solution.
Comparing the panel's work unfavorably to that of the Senate's three other standing committees on high-profile bills, Miller exhorted Judicial Proceedings members to deliver a bill that both houses can agree to by the time the legislature adjourns April 13.
"Do what you're supposed to do. Work your ass off. Find a solution to this problem that is vexing," Miller said during a roughly six-minute sermon. "You're on this committee for a reason. You're supposed to have some smarts."
The Senate president, who chaired the same committee three decades ago, demanded that the members put in the hours needed to craft a solution with only two weeks remaining.
"It's hard work. It's not somebody leaving at 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock in the afternoon," he said.
At the end of the lecture, Miller asked "any questions?"
"I don't think on that," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is in his first year as chairman, as spectators laughed.
Zirkin said Wednesday night that he always values the input of the Senate president, who appoints committee chairs. But Zirkin defended the efforts of his committee, saying they have worked many nights this year until 10:30 or 11 p.m. wrestling with difficult issues.
"This committee has worked together unbelievably well this year. We have rolled up our sleeves in late night sessions," he said.
Zirkin said none of the bills before his committee, including Anderson's, offers a solution to the problems caused by the Richmond decision. He said he's been meeting with his House counterpart, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. to try to work out a common approach.
"We're going to work together to come up with some solution on these issues," Zirkin said.
On Thursday, Miller backtracked on his comments, saying he had been "a little too harsh" in his message to the committee.