- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — In its usual rush to adjourn yesterday, the Senate overrode five vetoes by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., including one that would have allowed the state to immediately take over poor-performing schools in Baltimore.

In a 30-17 vote, the Senate opted to delay a state takeover of four high schools and seven middle schools in Baltimore, overriding Mr. Ehrlich’s veto. The delay became law yesterday, since the House had overridden the veto Saturday.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, called the override a “shameful … stain on this assembly.”

“Kids lost today, because of partisanship, because of ego,” Mr. Ehrlich said at a press conference late last night. “I’ve never seen so many people celebrate so much over so much dysfunction.”

Mr. Ehrlich placed the blame for the override at the feet of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

But Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, said it was “a tremendous vote acknowledging the progress we’re making in a very tough situation.”

Lawmakers, most of whom are seeking re-election, scrambled yesterday to wrap up legislative affairs before the Democrat-controlled General Assembly’s scheduled midnight adjournment.

Meanwhile, the legislature’s actions yesterday brought the total number of veto overrides to 22 for the session — a record that legislators were not shy to attribute to election-year politics.

“There is some partisanship,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat. “It takes two to tango. The governor didn’t have to veto [the bills] in the first place.”

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus called the Democrat-led overrides “ugly partisanship,” noting that the General Assembly previously had not overridden any vetoes since 1988.

“It tells the public what’s going on in Annapolis here, a lot of partisanship trying to make the governor look bad,” said Mr. Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican.

Moreover, Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris yesterday chided Mr. Miller for limiting debate on a law that will give State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone authority over local election boards and that mandates early voting in 21 heavily Democratic areas.

“This bill is an abomination to the Senate process,” said Mr. Harris, Baltimore County Republican.

“It’s an embarrassment to Maryland. We’ll be on the editorial pages of some New York paper talking about how we rig elections in Maryland.”

Mr. Ehrlich said that he would not accept the bill and would either use litigation or initiate a referendum to overturn it.

Other veto overrides restored a bill that will force Mr. Ehrlich to resubmit his Cabinet appointments for approval by the legislature if he is re-elected, and another that forbids members of the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents from political fundraising.

Mr. Ehrlich’s top political fundraiser, Richard Hug, is on the Board of Regents. Republicans said the bill was a “mean-spirited” swipe at the governor.

The Senate delayed an override vote on a bill that would fire the Public Service Commission’s five members, while lawmakers waited for Mr. Miller and Mr. Ehrlich to work out an agreement with utility officials over a proposed rate increase.

The legislature passed hundreds of other bills on its last day, including an increase in pensions for public school teachers and state employees, a tax credit for military veterans and stricter monitoring of sex offenders.

Those were among dozens of less-significant bills that lawmakers were to consider, from a ban on some exotic pets to limits on funeral protests to a bill that would allow people to take open bottles of wine out of a restaurant.

Among other items before lawmakers was a bill that would require the governor to spend at least $3 million on a plan to provide health care for needy children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants.

The Senate approved the plan 47-0, sending it to the governor’s desk for final approval.

Mr. Ehrlich last year cut that health care program to save money in the state budget, but immigrant advocates pushed for some restoration of the program.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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