- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — In votes that displayed the deepening divide in the State House, the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates yesterday overrode three vetoes by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

“It gets the session off on a very partisan note,” the Republican governor said, minutes after the overrides, the first by the General Assembly since 1989.

The House followed the lead of the Senate last week in overriding the vetoes of the three bills, which now become law. The most far-reaching of the bills will require some electrical appliances sold in Maryland to be more energy-efficient.

The governor said the energy-efficiency vote was a show of power by Democrats, who pulled together 92 votes, seven more than needed.

The discussion on the floor of the House, however, was as much about partisan politics as it was about energy efficiency.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, Montgomery Democrat, said his party has a “philosophical difference with our governor.”

“We for our part are only going to invoke a measure like this when we feel there is no other alternative. In this case, I believe we are at an impasse,” Mr. Barve said.

House Minority Whip Anthony O’Donnell told delegates that veto overrides should be reserved for issues of “paramount importance.” Republicans had many chances to initiate veto overrides under Democratic governors, but didn’t, he said.

Mr. Ehrlich himself voted in 1989 to override a veto cast by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, now the state comptroller. When asked about the override yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich said he couldn’t remember if he voted for it or against it.

The other bills enacted into law will protect pension benefits for 51 state employees who collect child support from delinquent parents and make a minor change in Baltimore liquor laws.

Democrats in the Senate voted yesterday to make it easier to shut off filibusters, prompting three Republican senators to walk off the floor amid bitter complaints that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. was trampling on the rights of minorities.

“He’s a bully,” an angry Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, said after the rules were changed so that it will require 29 votes instead of 32 votes from the 47 senators to shut off filibusters.

“As far as decorum is concerned, it’s gone. It’s chaos in the Senate,” Mr. Mooney said.

Mr. Miller, striking a conciliatory note, said he would “continue to make sure the minority party will continue to be heard in a meaningful way.” Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are friends and, “I will continue to reach out to every member of the Maryland Senate,” he said.

The new rule was approved on a 27-16 vote with five Democrats voting with Republicans against the change.

Much of the rancor in the Senate involved the move by Democrats to limit debate on whether the rule should be changed.

Republicans, citing another rule, asked Mr. Miller to step down from the rostrum and turn the Senate over to someone else while they appealed one of his rulings. He refused, prompting Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, to declare: “It is a sad day in the Maryland Senate.”

Mrs. Jacobs then joined Mr. Mooney and Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harris, Baltimore County Republican, in walking off the floor to protest Mr. Miller’s actions.

A bill to cap college tuition and guarantee funding increases for higher education will be introduced with the backing of 30 of the 47 state senators, including key members of the Democratic leadership.

Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill, said yesterday it would “provide funding for the University of Maryland system that will be stable, reliable and adequate.”

“It also assures students and their families that tuition will be predictable and affordable,” Mr. Frosh said.

Higher education has been hit especially hard the last two years as former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and then Mr. Ehrlich struggled to balance the state budget in the face of stagnant tax revenues. Mr. Ehrlich has promised that there will be no further cuts, but also no increases in the budget he is to submit to the legislature today.

Mr. Frosh’s bill would require Mr. Ehrlich to increase aid for the academic year that begins in the fall of 2005 to at least a level that would restore most of the money lost during the past two years. After that, the governor would be required to include at least a 5 percent annual increase in state aid in the annual budgets.

The bill would also cap tuition increases at 4 percent a year as long as the university system gets the 5 percent increase in state aid.

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