Rule changes meant to ease partisanship

The Political Game

Senate: Lawmakers approve internal revisions that will give more power to the Republicans.

February 08, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

THE MARYLAND Senate is doing its part to ease the rampant partisanship that is consuming Annapolis.

Senators voted last week on new internal rules designed to strengthen the role of Republicans, the minority party that holds 14 of the chamber's 47 seats.

From now on, the Senate minority leader will be permitted to make recommendations to the Senate president on committee assignments for his or her party members.

Additionally, a Republican and a Democrat will be designated as ranking members on each of four standing committees, serving as a focal point for communications.

The changes were precipitated in part by last year's contentious land deal under which the Ehrlich administration was negotiating to sell a preserved 836-acre forest in St. Mary's County to Baltimore contractor Willard Hackerman.

In an October letter outlining concerns about the deal, the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services notified several top lawmakers -- but none of them was a Republican.

Under the new rules, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee would have been alerted.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, from the Eastern Shore, thanked Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller for allowing the changes, and noted that Democrats in the House of Delegates had rejected them.

"The rules were summarily dismissed over there," Stoltzfus said. "You have chosen a different path. I hope everyone in Maryland is listening that the Senate is working together."

Vandals hit Republican headquarters in Annapolis

Unfortunately, the era of good feelings has not extended to the headquarters of the Maryland Republican Party, a block away from the State House at the top of West Street in Annapolis.

Twice in less than a week, the building has been vandalized.

About 10 days ago, party workers arrived to find that water seemed to have been injected into the door lock, freezing it solid. Staffers got inside only after an office manager was dispatched to purchase de-icer.

A few days later, the office was pelted with eggs.

Party officials have not reported the incidents to police.

"We don't know whether it's intentional vandalism of the Republican Party or stupid kids walking down the street attacking the first thing they see," said Deborah Martinez, a spokeswoman for the party. "It's a very visible storefront. You have people who are enjoying the bars in the area."

So are Republicans planning to retaliate against the state Democratic Party headquarters, a little-noticed basement-level office suite on Main Street, about a block away? Martinez says no.

"They are so hidden and kind of buried in their location that we don't have to worry about them," Martinez said.

Democrats seek $5 million for hospital projects

Democratic leaders are vowing to restore $5 million to the state capital budget that had been set aside for seven community hospital projects managed by the Maryland Hospital Association.

Democrats accuse Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of cutting the money because the hospital association would not support the governor during the medical malpractice special session late last year.

The projects were identified after a yearlong process, which included a review by the Maryland Health Care Commission. The Ehrlich administration has said it is focusing capital funding this year on school construction and higher education.

"By not funding these seven sites, the governor has rejected a proven process and pulled the rug out from under communities whose hospitals are in the greatest need of expansion and renovation," said Miller, the Senate president, in a statement.

Added House Speaker Michael E. Busch: "The idea that you would take away this money and leave these hospitals without funding suggests to me that the governor has little understanding of the important role community hospitals play in Maryland."

The hospitals that had been recommended for funding are: Atlantic General in Worcester County ($100,000); Calvert Memorial in Calvert County ($1.1 million); Civista in Charles County ($1.2 million); Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore ($800,000); North Arundel Hospital in Anne Arundel County ($600,000); Northwest Hospital Center in Baltimore County ($800,000); and Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health System in Montgomery County ($400,000).

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