- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Leaders of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly are still trying to replace Maryland Public Service Commission members but want to complete the project without the rancor it caused last year.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. told the Baltimore Sun that he plans to meet with Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler as early as this week.

Mr. Miller, a Calvert and Prince George’s Democrat, said last year he had lost confidence in the commissioners. He now hopes to work out an “easy transition” under which Mr. Schisler would agree to depart before his five-year term expires next year.

“People deserve to be treated with dignity,” Mr. Miller said.

Delegate Dereck Davis, Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, also said he wants an “amicable separation” with Mr. Schisler.

The commission came under frequent criticism last year for its handling of a huge increase in electricity rates for customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Democrats accused the commissioners, appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, of doing little to soften the increase. Some even said the commissioners had grown too cozy with the companies they were charged with regulating.

“People are looking for ways to give the general public a better advocate,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “Obviously, the corporate interests have been represented, as we found out in the last year.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who defeated Mr. Ehrlich in the November election, could fire the commissioners because Maryland law allows a governor to remove members for “incompetence or misconduct.”

“We’re still looking at our options,” Mr. O’Malley said. “We know that’s something we need to address real soon — sooner rather than later.”

The General Assembly passed legislation last year that ordered the firing of the commissioners, but it was struck down by the state’s highest court, which ruled that it usurped gubernatorial power.

Ralph Tyler, Mr. O’Malley’s chief legal counsel, said he is reviewing proposed action and plans to consult legislative leaders.

Some legislators, meanwhile, are looking at restructuring the way Maryland oversees electric utilities.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill that would establish an electricity board, leaving the commission to continue to regulate telephone, water and sewage companies and taxis.

“The problem is that, on net, we have commissioners who are believers in this failed deregulated market,” Mr. Pipkin said.

Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Mr. Pipkin’s proposal is “worth considering.” However, Mr. Astle said he was not sure he would “want to create another bureaucracy to fix a bureaucracy.”

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