- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s highest court heard arguments yesterday in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of a recent special General Assembly session and to block a measure to legalize slot machines.

Irwin R. Kramer, representing state Republican lawmakers and a Carroll County businessman who filed the lawsuit, said the Democrat-controlled Assembly violated the Maryland Constitution by placing the slots issue on the November 2008 ballot.

“The people, in no respect, reserve the power to approve revenue measures like these,” he told the state Court of Appeals.

Lawmakers during the special session last fall broke the political stalemate over whether to legalize slots by approving two measures. One asks voters to legalize slot machines and the other details how many machines would be allowed and where the money would go.

The state constitution bars budget measures from being placed on the ballot. However, state lawmakers obtained an opinion from the attorney general’s office saying the slots measure would be legal if passed as a constitutional amendment.

But skeptical members of the seven-member Court of Appeals questioned the need for the amendment.

“If you don’t have to have a constitutional amendment to have slot machines in Maryland, why do you go to the people and have them vote on creating an unnecessary constitutional amendment?” Judge Dale R. Cathell asked Assistant Attorney General Austin C. Schlick.

Mr. Schlick, who has led a team of lawyers defending the state, said the Assembly was within its bounds in placing the slots measure on the ballot.

Lawmakers are banking on slot machines to bring in $650 million to plug a long-term budget gap, but voters must first approve the measure as a referendum.

The one-hour hearing quickly devolved from questions about the constitutionality of the slots proposal to the constitutionality of the Senate’s decision to adjourn for more than three days during the special session.

The lawsuit dominated state politics through December, but lost most of its momentum in January when a circuit court judge called the actions of the Assembly “reprehensible” but legal nonetheless.

Mr. Kramer and Mr. Schlick yesterday revisited arguments about whether the House gave the consent required by the state constitution to the Senate during the session to adjourn for more than three days.

But Chief Judge Robert M. Bell cut the re-enactment short.

“So what?” Judge Bell said to Mr. Kramer. “What is the remedy to this?”

Mr. Kramer is seeking to revoke the taxes, spending and all other legislation that passed during the session.

“Chief Judge Bell was raising the question of why a constitutional provision that’s designed to bring the legislature back to work should be used to undermine the work of the legislature,” Mr. Schlick said.

Neither Mr. Schlick nor Mr. Kramer would speculate how the court would rule. The court does not set deadlines for issuing opinions.

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