Members of the Maryland Senate were returning to Annapolis today to work on passing a new congressional redistricting plan to leave for their absent colleagues in the House of Delegates.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., saying that the Senate was not giving his favored proposal a fair consideration, sent the 141 delegates home yesterday, only 24 hours after the start of the special session called to draw new district maps.
Mitchell's action puzzled some senators, who said the two chambers had not had a chance to negotiate the politically loaded issue.
"It's baffling," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery.
Mitchell's lieutenants in the House defended the quick dismissal.
Del. Nancy K. Kopp, the House speaker pro tem, argued that those who saw yesterday's House "walk" as an attempt to shun the Senate misinterpreted the action.
"This is not slamming the door on anything," said Kopp, D-Montgomery. "We look forward to working with the Senate and the governor."
She said work on developing a compromise plan will continue "calmly and methodically" during the recess.
State legislatures are required to draw new congressional district maps after each U.S. Census to adjust for changes in population.
Kopp brushed aside speculation that a General Assembly divided on congressional redistricting would be unable to work as a team on even more serious matters -- such as the state's looming $450 million deficit and the possible need to raise taxes during the next session in January.
Late yesterday, the Senate redistricting committee -- made up of the Senate's top leadership -- passed a measure that will surely anger Mitchell, as it splits off Cecil County from the rest of the Eastern Shore, and lumps the Shore in with most of Anne Arundel County.
"You're going to cut the Shore to pieces," said Sen. Frederick C. Malk us, D-Eastern Shore. "Somebody will be sorry."
While Eastern Shore representatives were howling about the latest Senate plan, Baltimore County lawmakers were voting for it, as it puts most of the county into a single district. Earlier plans passed separately by the House and Senate would splinter the county into five different districts, diluting its influence in Washington.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said that while he "vigorously" opposed the plan, designed by Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore City, he said it could be turned into a viable compromise plan with amendments.
The key plank of the new Senate plan is forcing Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, into a district with Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st. The plan appears to create a safe district for Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, who was paired either with Gilchrest or McMillen in the earlier plans.