Lottery bill inspires tussle among Democrats in Maryland Senate

Lottery bill inspires tussle among Democrats in Maryland Senate
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, and Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County/Harford County Republican, discuss the merits of a bill Friday, Jan. 13. (Pamela Wood)

On only the third day of the 90-day General Assembly session, senators had a dust-up over legislation, leading Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to admonish his colleagues to be considerate of one another.

The Senate was debating a bill that would make it illegal for a business or individual to buy a lottery ticket for someone else and charge them for it. Sponsored by Gov. Larry Hogan's administration, the bill already won swift and unanimous approval from the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.


But when it came to the full Senate Friday morning, some legislators questioned whether the practice really should be illegal or whether it should be punished by up to three years in jail.

"I doubt very seriously if anyone gets three years for adding 50 cents or a dollar to a lottery ticket," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the committee.

Still, Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, asked to delay voting on the bill so he could write an amendment changing the jail penalty. Conway resisted the call for delay. She said if senators don't like the bill, they should simply vote against it.

The Senate's top leaders weren't thrilled with Conway. Miller said it doesn't make sense to make a big deal about "basically a do-nothing bill" early in the session, when there is plenty of time to amend and debate it.

Whether a senator is from "the back row or the front row" requests for delay should generally be granted, Miller said.

"It's simply a matter of common courtesy," Miller said.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, who was leading the session in his role as president pro-tem, said there was no need to resist the special order. At one point, he sighed: "Come on."

"It's early, we're all in this together," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Brochin's request for delay sounds like it was approved on a voice vote, but Conway asked for a roll call vote. The request for delay was denied, 24-20.

Senators then gave preliminary approval to the bill on a 31-13 vote. The next vote, likely to come next week, will be the final vote.

Many have predicted this year's session will be acrimonious, but most of those predictions have focused on possible spats between Democratic lawmakers and the Republican governor. Friday's tussle over the lottery bill showed a public rift among Democrats.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, observed on Twitter: "1st bill of yr, drama on Senate floor. Voice vote overturned by roll call. Floor fight on procedure. Sign of session ahead."