Fate of 15 bills still in question, with special session hovering

General Assembly


Lawyers continue to sort out the fate of 15 bills that could not be delivered to the governor's office Friday because the doors were locked, but lawmakers have a contentious option if they want the measures to become law: a special session of the General Assembly.

The legislature's presiding officers said yesterday that they were reluctant to call for a special session, which requires a majority vote of the House and Senate. They said they hope Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will act on the bills, including a measure to limit power plant emissions, within the six-day window provided by law and before the end of the 90-day regular session at midnight Monday.

"We're going to override the governor's veto Monday on this issue, assuming he hasn't signed it into law," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, referring to the clean-air measure. "The bill is going to become law on Monday."

The flap over the proposals is about timing. Lawmakers rushed to pass many bills by Friday to meet a deadline that would give time to attempt overrides if Ehrlich vetoed them.

Senate aides attempted Friday and Saturday to bring the 15 bills to officials in the governor's office, meeting each time with a locked door. Ehrlich's staff said the bills officially arrived Monday, when they had someone available to accept them.

Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch has issued an advisory opinion stating that the Friday delivery should stand, and an assistant attorney general has said legal action could be taken against Ehrlich.

If the later arrival time stands - as aides to the governor believe it should - Ehrlich doesn't have to make up his mind until 11:59 p.m. Monday, leaving lawmakers no time to override before the midnight adjournment.

"We are treating these bills as if they were delivered Monday," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor. "Our counsel's office continues to review Mr. Zarnoch's letter."

Under law, veto overrides must be the first order of business when the General Assembly meets. But the Assembly that will convene in 2007 will be elected this fall, and that body won't be able to vote to restore bills passed by this year's legislators. So after midnight Monday, the only chance for overrides is a special session.

Lawmakers could try to convene such a session shortly after midnight. Or they could wait.

Under the state constitution, the governor can convene a special session for "extraordinary occasions." Or, a majority vote in the House and Senate can force the governor to issue a proclamation for a special session.

The only reason the session can be extended - a different kind of overtime - is if the budget has not passed.

Neither the governor nor legislators appear eager for an extra session; they want to launch their re-election campaigns.

But Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George's County Democrat and the House majority whip, said the 15 bills should not be forgotten.

"We've sent important legislation to the governor for his consideration on important policy matters, and the General Assembly, certainly the House of Delegates, and I assume the Senate as well, are going to rely on the measures available to us to ensure that they become the law of Maryland," Brown said.


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