- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s highest court yesterday rejected a case filed by Republican lawmakers to overturn taxes approved during last year’s special General Assembly session.

The suit by the lawmakers and a Carroll County businessman stated the Democrat-controlled Assembly violated a constitutional provision when the Senate took a long break without permission of the House. As a result, they said, the whole session was invalid.

During the session, lawmakers raised more than $1.3 billion in new taxes to help close a budget shortfall.

The state Court of Appeals rejected the claim without comment after a hearing Tuesday. A longer ruling will be issued later.

The decision means Republican challenges to a November referendum on slot-machine gambling included in the lawsuit also failed. The Republicans argued the Assembly should have decided whether to allow slots, not put the issue to voters on the November 2008 ballot.

“I actually am very surprised,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Eastern Shore Republican who brought the lawsuit after spotting the technical error.

Mr. Smigiel also said he is curious to see judges’ explanations.

“There are now parts of the constitution you can violate with impunity,” he said. “So, I guess we can now go through the constitution and decide which parts we can violate.”

The judges affirmed a ruling last year by a Carroll County judge that the Assembly acted in a “reprehensible” manner when it overlooked constitutional requirements about how it met. But the judge decided the act wasn’t enough to invalidate a long list of bills passed by both chambers and signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

“The court can simply not agree that when a technicality in procedure is violated, the entire slate of lawfully enacted legislation should be invalidated,” Judge Thomas Stanfield wrote.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday the scheduling error should not undo laws that Republicans don’t have enough votes to defeat in the Assembly.

“We contended all along that it was frivolous lawsuit, that the General Assembly acted in good faith, and [the judges] saw that,” said Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat.

The decision brings to an end months of bickering over the procedural mistake. During the special session, the Senate left Annapolis for more than three days without apparent permission of the House, a little-noticed requirement in the state constitution.

Republicans noticed the error and said it was a violation that made resulting laws invalid. Democrats called it a clerk’s innocent mistake. Mr.Stanfield agreed with Democrats that the violation wasn’t important enough to overturn the taxes, but chastised them for what he called “an egregious lack of judgment.”

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said he was disappointed the lawsuit failed, but that ruling Democrats are doing a better job this year following parliamentary procedures.

“The leadership is making sure they follow all the rules,” said Mr. Kittleman, Carroll and Howard County. “Laws can’t be made if we’re breaking them at the same time.”

Taxes passed by the Assembly last fall included a higher sales tax, tobacco tax and higher income taxes for the wealthy.

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