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Harford legislators call second special session 'unnecessary' and possibly unconstitutional

Legislators will be returning to Annapolis Thursday for the second special session this year, a move many Harford politicians are against.

"Our constitution states that the governor can convene a special session of the legislature in the case of an 'emergency,'" Del. Wayne Norman wrote in a letter to The Aegis. "Special Session 2.0 is being convened so that we can debate the 'emergency' that Prince George's County may now want a casino. Actually, that is not 100 percent accurate. Some interests in Maryland and elsewhere wants a casino at National Harbor, but that desire is not unanimous amongst lawmakers."

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Gov. Martin O'Malley called for the legislative session late last week, asking legislators to vote on a proposal that could potentially allow a casino to be built in Prince George's County and add table games, such as poker or blackjack.

If passed, the bill would be put to the voters during the November election.

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O'Malley said the measure would bring in an additional $100 million in revenue during the next fiscal year, The Baltimore Sun reports, and thousands of jobs.

What many legislators are taking issue with, including several who represent Harford County, is the need for the session.

Del. Glen Glass earlier went so far as to say he would boycott a special session if one were called.

"It's my understanding that important issues other than gambling, such as pit bulls and gun rights, may now be on the agenda during the session," Glass said Thursday. "I feel that I have no choice but to be in Annapolis."

Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls to be "inherently dangerous" and owners should be held legally responsible for bites even if there is no history of attacks.

Glass, who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties, said he still plans to boycott the gambling bill by not voting on it.

"By me not voting, it's a 'no' vote," Glass explained. He added that he has heard several legislators plan to not show up at all to the special session.

Del. Wayne Norman feels all legislators should attend the session, regardless of their stance on gambling or other issues.

"They're going to take their paycheck," he said. "They need to be there."

Norman, a conservative Republican who represents District 35A, called every vote made during a legislative session "a hard vote."

He, too, has heard the gambling bill could be rolled up along with the pit bull regulations and a possible limitation on ammunition purchases into one measure for legislators to vote on.

"I don't know what pit bulls have to do with a casino on the Potomac River," Norman commented.

There has been speculation the special session could last as long as a week.

Both Glass and Norman, among many other delegates representing Harford County, are against the sixth casino location, at National Harbor, but are in favor of table games.

"It doesn't make sense to have gambling legislation now because the other five sites, not all of them are up and running," Glass said. "If the new site is built in Prince George's County, that's going to take a lot of business away from the [proposed] Baltimore casino and Maryland Live."

Another gambling site could hurt the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, which Glass also represents.

"When Maryland Live came on board, Perryville and Charles Town lost 20 percent of business," he said.

Del. Pat McDonough believes if the table games bill was separate from the measure including the sixth casino location it would "pass without question."

Having more casinos in the state, McDonough said, could be the equivalent of putting four 7-Eleven stores on a corner — "they're all going to die."

"The well is only so deep," he said. "Maryland is not Las Vegas and it's not Atlantic City. There's not an abundance of tourists coming in."

The delegate, who represents Harford and Baltimore counties, released a top 10 list on why the special session "is a bad idea."

His No. 1 reason: "The special session is unconstitutional. There is no extraordinary or emergency reason to waste the taxpayers' money."

Del. Susan McComas, who represents District 35B wrote in an e-mail, "The special session is not necessary, not an emergency and possibly unconstitutional. Gambling, the primary reason for the special session, is contentious and complicated. The issue does not lend itself to a quick hearing, committee vote or political 'horse' trading for expanded bonding authority, transportation funds or other benefits."

The e-mail continued: "I have not heard a great deal from residents in my district. What I have heard is no one thinks we need a special session, including those from the educational system, the ones allegedly who would benefit from the special session."

Sen. Barry Glassman also believes the special session is "a bit premature since we do not even have the other approved sites all up and running."

He wrote in an e-mail: "I have been around long enough to remember the governor calling gaming a poor way to fund a government and the Speaker [Michael Busch] and Democratic leadership blocking slots at racetracks for close to 12 years. Now, they want to rush through casinos for organized labor and out-of-state casino owners in two days."

Fellow Sen. Nancy Jacobs suggests more prudent spending rather than relying on casino money for additional revenue.

"It may look like a quick money fix to fill a budget hole if voters can get the National Harbor site approved in November, but what about belt tightening instead? Isn't that the more responsible course of action?" she wrote in an e-mail. "I am very opposed to holding this special session for expanding gambling in the state. Special sessions are supposed to be for emergencies and, certainly, expanding gambling is no emergency. It's irresponsible to race this bill through so quickly when it can't be properly vetted."

MGM Resorts International's CEO, who is seriously looking as building a luxury casino at National Harbor, had previously said the state's slots tax was too high and a casino couldn't be built at the 67 percent tax rate, The Sun reports.

Last week, however, CEO James J. Murren said MGM wishes to be in Maryland regardless of any tax cuts.

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