General Assembly Journal 2005 - Part 12
Last week was cross-over week, and regular readers from previous years know that means we're within two weeks of the end of the 420th General Assembly Session.
This year, the end comes on April 11th, at the prescribed hour of midnight. At that moment, we'll adjourn "Sine Die."
Sine Die: "Without a (set) day" - originally from old common law texts, where it indicates that a final, dispositive order has been made in the case: there is nothing left for the court to do, so no date for further proceedings is set.
Enough wishful thinking! There's still too much left on the plate to dream about April 11th.
Remember a few weeks back I wrote extensively about the stem cell debate, highlighting the whole controversy about embryonic versus adult stem cells.
The House passed the version of the bill including a $23 million dollar commitment from the Cigarette Restitution Fund (CRF). The CRF is the pot of money that funds local initiatives related to cancer detection and treatment.
Siphoning off this funding for stem cell research is questionable from a policy standpoint. In Frederick County, the Health Department uses CRF to pay for cancer screenings, including a very important and effective colon cancer screening initiative.
As far as the stem cell issue, the looming deadline of Sine Die adds an interesting measure of stress.
Conservative senators have threatened to use the filibuster tool to tie up the Senate in the last week. Senate President Mike Miller (D., Calvert) cannot afford to see every bill in the pipeline behind the stem cell bills held up while time runs out.
House Speaker Mike Busch (D., Anne Arundel) wasn't worried about procedural mechanics, since House rules don't allow filibuster or unlimited debate. Our rules include a powerful mechanism under Rule 89; Motion to Vote on the Previous Question.
This motion allows the majority to force a vote on the motion before the body, and there are even delegates designated by the Speaker to make the motion at the appropriate time.
President Miller needs 29 senators to vote for a Motion to Close Debate (commonly referred to as cloture). Normally, getting votes is as easy as Senator Miller asking for them.
The stem cell debate is another matter entirely. Since the whole "Life vs. Choice" debate applies, there are a number of Senate Democrats that align with Republicans on this issue.
Those who support life in the Senate have made plain their intent to filibuster, so President Miller is spending time pressing for the 28th and 29th vote for cloture.
If he doesn't get it, we may not see the stem cell bill before Sine Die. Stem cells aren't the only thing hanging in the balance.
Last Thursday the House decided to extend a lifetime employment agreement to the State Elections Board's administrator. Why? Because the Democrats wanted to, that's why!
Linda Lamone, the incumbent elections administrator, has been involved in a dispute with the State Elections Board, all of whom are appointed by the Governor. Ms. Lamone also happens to have the unequivocal support of Senate President Miller.
President Miller wanted to protect Ms. Lamone from termination, and wanted to choose the Democrat members of the Elections Board. His interest was motivated not by bad volunteers on the board, but by the fact that Governor Robert Ehrlich (R.) was the one appointing them.
An emergency bill was introduced in both the House and Senate to change the appointments process for board members to allow central committees to offer the candidates, removing the governor's ability to reject applicants.
The bill also states that the administrator will serve until a successor is appointed and confirmed by the Senate. Under that scenario, the administrator could commit a felony, be jailed, yet run the state elections board from a jail cell!
This isn't the only egregious example of an abridgement of the powers of the governor. In fact, there have been over 25 bills that have been submitted since 2003.
The bills run the gamut from sublime to ridiculous. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a co-sponsor of a procurement reform bill from last year that gave the House and Senate the power to make an appointment that had previously been made by the Executive, although the bill didn't pass.
Frederick County colleague Galen Clagett has authored several bills this year that diminish the powers of the governor. One bill reduces the amount that the governor can reduce the budget by without approval of the Board of Public Works, while another limits gubernatorial "patronage" jobs.
Without discussing the merits of either proposal, the fact remains that there have never been as many legislative proposals designed to restrict the powers of the executive branch.
The concept of divided government just isn't sitting well with those who wish to see a Democrat return to the second floor in Annapolis.
Some controversial issues remain unresolved. The Medical Decision Act, which allows "life partners" the right to make medical decisions beyond the authority of a durable power of attorney, is awaiting a final House vote.
One late session funny observation: We had a vote on a bill dealing with employers who refuse to accept a settlement decision from the Unemployment Board. The bill added teeth to law when an employer refuses to pay an ordered settlement.
The bill came up for a final vote, and passed with an almost unanimous vote. My own vote was a Yea, as I hadn't made a note warning of some problem with it.
I can't annotate every bill, so I tend to write notes to myself on the bad bills. I did see that a few Republican colleagues voted Nay. When the opportunity to change votes arrived, Republicans started popping up like crazy, all trying to change their vote from green to red!
The vote change spread through the chamber like a virus. Finally, the Speaker announced that the clerk had to count the changes. A member cannot change their vote if the change will change the outcome of the final vote.
Sure enough, four members who had requested a change represented the 68th, 69th, 70th, and 71st vote. They were not allowed to record the changed vote.
I sat back chuckling to myself, because the bill wasn't even a bad vote! These members had assumed that because someone else changed their vote, there must have been a problem.
Former Delegate Anita Stup told me when I won the delegate race in 2003 that vote changes represent a failure to pay attention. Must have been a major failure of attention in the chamber last Thursday!
Onward to Sine Die!