House strengthens speaker's ability to end debate

The first partisan throw-down of the session played out this morning in the House of Delegates, a chamber that will likely control the fate of the big bills including gambling, taxes and same-sex marriage.

This morning's topic was a little more arcane: A wording change in the House rules that clarifies when the Speaker can shut down debate. Now House Speaker Michael E. Busch can shut off discussion that is deemed "dilatory or frivolous."

Republican lawmakers, who are outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 in the chamber, took the floor to argue that new rule isn't necessary. Several pointed out that the Speaker already can decide whether to recognize a lawmaker on the floor and can cut off debate by calling a vote.

Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the minority whip, told the Speaker: "You already have broad discression."

"Why do we have to do this?" she asked. "Because we have to be super sure the minority can't be heard? We have to be super sure we can stifle debate?"

Del. Brian J. Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, defended the idea saying that it would make the rules of the House more clear.

But he wasn't persuading Republicans. Anne Arundel County Del. Ron George, a Republican who shares a district with the Speaker, rose to say it is "part of our right as the minority to slow down debate."

"If you want to change the rules to say 'Bring your rubber stamp,' we can do that," George said with sarcasm.

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