Judge to take up session, tax-rise suit

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ANNAPOLIS — A Carroll County judge is expected to hear arguments today on a lawsuit filed by Maryland Republicans to invalidate the special General Assembly session and block the tax increases signed into law last month.

“It’s a total disregard for the rules when the rules don’t go your way,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican, and one of six plaintiffs in the suit against the state.

The state Senate adjourned for more than three days without a vote of consent from the House during last month’s three-week special session, in violation of a clause in the state constitution, said Republican leaders. They filed the suit with a computer-repair businessman from Carroll County who will pay more taxes as a result of the increases passed during the session.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, called the session to resolve a state budget shortfall of at least $1.5 billion. In addition to the tax increases proposed by Mr. O’Malley, state lawmakers also passed spending increases proposed by the governor.

The state constitution requires at least two-thirds of the members of either chamber to vote to allow the opposite chamber to adjourn for more than three days at a time.

The Senate adjourned for six days without a vote of approval from the House, though it is not clear whether a vote was required.

The constitution states: “Neither [chamber] shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, at any one time, nor adjourn to any other place, than that in which the [chamber] shall be sitting, without the concurrent vote of two-thirds of the members present.”

The lawsuit also contends the constitutional amendment that would put as many as 15,000 slot machines in five Maryland locations is invalid because revenue-raising measures cannot be affixed to the state constitution.

Slot machines are expected to raise at least $650 million for the state, if approved by voters in 2008.

The state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit this week, saying the plaintiffs failed to “state a claim on which relief can be granted” and “have no legal entitlement to any relief they seek.”

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat, in his court filing cites similar cases from other states, including Pennsylvania.

“Every state attorney general examining the issue has reached the same conclusion: A violation of rules by one chamber does not bar subsequent legislative action,” he wrote.

Mr. Gansler also says the Senate adjourned for only three business days — three of the six calendar days were a Saturday, Sunday and the observance of Veterans Day, on a Monday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, said last week the argument in the suit is “bungled” legal reasoning and that the suit is “frivolous.”

State and federal courts have routinely overturned proposals from Maryland Democrat lawmakers in the past decade.

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