Leaders of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates plan to continue negotiations on congressional redistricting over the weekend amid indications that they're moving closer to an agreement.
Anxious to move the legislative focus to the budget crisis, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell said "the state has bigger and more pressing problems than redistricting."
But Mitchell refused to say whether he'd accept a new Senate proposal for ending the redistricting impasse.
The key issue is the boundary lines for a district that would pair incumbent Reps. Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st. Senate and House leaders want to combine parts of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore, but differ over whether to include Cecil County.
Senate leaders, who have sought to exclude all of Cecil County from the district, expressed willingness today to include part of the county. That would require a corresponding cut in part of the Anne Arundel portion of the district.
The Senate wants a committee of senators and delegates to negotiate an agreement, but Mitchell said he preferred to have leaders of both chambers continue to negotiate.
The Senate and House are scheduled to return to Annapolis Tuesday.
Last night, Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. met with Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, and Beverly Byron, D-6th, in an unsuccessful attempt to reach agreement.
Lawmakers in both chambers said they were growing weary of the deadlock and wanted to focus on the state budget crisis.
"The public feels, and rightfully so, we've spent too much time on this issue," Miller, D-Prince George's, said.
But neither side was willing to give up and let the federal courts devise new boundaries for the state's eight congressional districts.
"I think even though we don't have a conference committee, the game goes on," said Sen. Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery.
Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore, said he opposes appointing a committee because it wouldn't be fair to have six committee members, three from each chamber, work out a plan that the House then would have to accept or reject.
He, too, is eager to finish with redistricting.
"I think it's time for us to get out of here . . .," he said.