ANNAPOLIS -- Six state legislators will sit down next week to try to resolve differences between the two chambers over congressional redistricting, although both sides say a federal court may end up resolving the dispute.
"If we don't have it done by next week, we're never going to have it done," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, one of three senators who will join with their House counterparts in hopes of breaking a legislative deadlock about to enter its fourth week.
"It's this close" to going to court, said Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, one of the House conferees, holding two fingers an inch apart.
With state lawmakers busy with budget matters, no time has been set for the conferees to meet. They are expected to sit down sometime next week.
The two houses have passed similar congressional maps. Both would pair Representatives Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in the same district.
The Senate plan would have the bulk of that proposed district's population centered in Anne Arundel County -- Mr. McMillen's home county -- in an effort to give him a political edge. That would be achieved by splitting Cecil County from the Eastern Shore, now represented by Mr. Gilchrest.
Cecil County accounts for about 71,000 residents of the estimated 597,000-resident district.
But House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, does not want his native Shore split and has refused to budge from the House plan that would leave the majority of the district's population on the Shore. Mr. Mitchell and his Shore colleagues want to preserve the region's ability to elect a congressman.
Some legislative sources have said Mr. Mitchell has offered to split Cecil County to break the deadlock, although the House speaker has denied it.
However, Mr. Mitchell did say that he was constantly sending alternative plans to Mr. Miller. "We've sent practically one per day," he said.
The strongly partisan Mr. Miller said he would agree to have Anne Arundel County and the Shore split evenly to make the race fair. But Mr. Mitchell and his colleagues have said that can only be achieved by splitting the Shore.
There are two weeks left in the special legislative session called to settle the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional lines to conform to the 1990 census.
With time running out, Marylanders for Fair Representation, a non-profit group created by GOP fund-raiser Joshua Smith, has already drafted documents that could be filed in federal court should the two sides remain deadlocked.
David D. Queen, counsel for the group, said federal courts on a half dozen occasions have stepped in to resolve similar disputes. Since both houses have passed McMillen-Gilchrest matchups, he said, the court would likely pick one plan or a variation. "But the court is free to create any plan it wants," he added.
He declined to say what type of plan the group would request should it go to court.
Talk of courts has made some members of the congressional delegation nervous, wondering if a court-created plan would be to their liking.
One congressional aide said members may meet next week and try to resolve the matter among themselves, perhaps ceding Democratic turf from other districts to Mr. McMillen.