The standoff between Maryland lawmakers over congressional redistricting continued today in Annapolis as the Senate returned to work while, across the hall, the House of Delegates chamber remained empty.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., saying 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.
Today Mitchell, seated outside his State House office, said he is willing to meet privately with Senate leadership "today, the next day and the next day and the next." But, he added, he will not bring the House back into session until the two sides have HTC agreed upon a plan to present to the entire General Assembly.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he will talk to Mitchell, an Eastern Shore Democrat. But, he said forcefully, he will not discuss changes to redistricting proposals unless the House is willing to form a joint committee to resolve differences.
"What I won't do is negotiate with him over these two plans," said Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. He called for a conference committee of House and Senate members to discuss the controversial remapping plans according to session rules and tradition.
Miller turned down requests by several rural lawmakers to send the Senate home while a special redistricting committee works on plans. The committee is scheduled to meet later today and to return to Annapolis tomorrow. The full Senate will return Monday.
Mitchell's action yesterday puzzled some senators, who said the two chambers had not had a chance to negotiate the issue.
"It's baffling," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery.
Mitchell's lieutenants in the House defended the quick dismissal.
"This is not slamming the door on anything," said Speaker Pro Tem Nancy K. 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.
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 districts, diluting its influence in Washington.
Miller 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.