Senate committee switch could spring wind bill

A change in the membership of a key Maryland Senate committee could hand Gov. Martin O'Malley a long-sought victory on a measure to foster development of a wind power industry off Ocean City.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has replaced Sen. C. Anthony Muse on the Finance Committee with Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, Miller's office confirmed Thursday. The switch, which replaces one Prince George's County Democrat with another, was first reported on the Washington Post's web site.

Muse was one of three Democrats who joined committee Republicans in firmly opposing O'Malley wind bill last year. Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said that with Ramirez on the panel, the chances that O'Malley will win approval of his top remaining environmental priority are much improved.

Miller  said this week that he expects the wind legislation to be approved this year -- the third time O'Malley will have backed such a measure. But the Senate president's office said last night that the switch was not made solely for the purpose of advancing one bill.

Muse will replace Ramirez on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which handles such highly contentious issues of crime and punishment as the death penalty. Both Ramirez and Muse are considered to be opponents  of the death penalty repeal, so the change would not change the panel's current 6-5 lineup against repeal.

Muse would become the second African-American on Judicial Proceedings, along with Baltimore's Sen. Lisa Gladden, the vice chair. Miller said he has heard criticism that black senators were underrepresented in that panel.

The Senate president has said that if O'Malley can muster the support on the floor to pass a repeal bill, he will find a way to get the measure to an up-or-down vote.

Muse, elected in 2006, has more seniority than the freshman Ramirez, but the new Finance member is generally regarded as more of a team player. Last year, Muse ran a quixotic primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, losing badly after receiving little support from his Democratic colleagues.

A call to Muse was not immediately returned.

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican who sits on the Finance Committee, said his party would continue to fight the wind bill and wouldn't concede that it has the votes to pass.

Pipkin, who said wind power was too expensive and runs the risk of turbine damage in storms such as Sandy, called O'Malley's proposal "one of the dumbest" he's seen in the 10 years he's been in Annapolis.

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