Capital Notebook

February 07, 2007

Democrats defeat GOP rules proposals

Senate Democrats resoundingly defeated a series of GOP rules proposals yesterday that would have boosted Republicans' influence during floor debate.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican, called it "Stomp on Minority Rights Day," slamming Democrats for what he said amounted to disenfranchising their GOP colleagues.

One measure aimed to make it harder to end a filibuster, requiring 32 votes instead of 29 of the chamber's 47 members. Democrats outnumber Republicans 33 to 14; the proposal went down by a party-line vote.

Without the support of some of Democratic senators, Republicans "can't block anything in this body," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican. Harris said extended discussions give members of the GOP an opportunity to make their case.

Another proposal to require that all bills receive a recorded vote in committee also was defeated. "We owe it to our constituents to take positions on issues that are important to them," Allan H. Kittleman, the minority whip, said in lobbying unsuccessfully for it.

Jennifer Skalka

Panel hears personnel measure

A bill that would reclassify thousands of the state's "at-will" positions was heard by a House of Delegates committee yesterday, with the lead sponsor calling it a bipartisan effort to address political hirings and firings.

The proposal calls for nearly 4,000 employees designated as special appointments to be divided into two categories: one for jobs that "must be filled without regard to political affiliation, belief, or opinion;" and another that allows those matters to be considered as much as federal case law permits.

A legislative investigation into the personnel practices of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration found that some state employees were targeted for termination because of their party affiliation or not given a reason at all.

The process ended without a finding of illegal activity. Republicans have called the investigation a "witch hunt," but Democrats have pledged changes.

"It wasn't because we had a Republican administration. These are guidelines that should be in effect regardless of who the governor is," Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, told members of the House Appropriations Committee.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch also endorsed the bill, saying it was needed to "protect the integrity of the work force" for the state.

A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said the governor is "committed to working with legislators to address workers' rights," though an aide testified that the budget department wants to discuss amendments to the bill.

Justin Fenton

Use of `smart meters' is urged

A state lawmaker wants Maryland's electric utilities to install "smart meters" in customers' homes, a move backers say will save money and conserve energy.

Del. Jon S. Cardin introduced a bill that would require utilities to install the meters, which closely track usage patterns, in a sampling of homes to determine their possible benefits. He said in a hearing yesterday that the meters would help customers manage their power use and shift tasks such as running the dishwasher or the clothes dryer to times when energy demand - and rates - are lower.

Reduced consumption would mean Maryland's utilities would feel less pressure to build new power plants and would produce less pollution, Cardin said. "Everybody comes out ahead," he said.

BGE officials testified yesterday that they are in favor of the pilot program, which would reach about 5,000 customers and last a year. Mark Case, head of regulatory affairs for the company, said the devices would allow the company to eliminate meter readers, restore power more quickly during outages and turn the electricity on or off at a residence more efficiently.

Case said that if customers take full advantage of the meters and related technology - such as thermostats that can be controlled remotely to, for example, turn off air conditioners during times of peak demand - BGE could reduce the growth rate of electric usage by 10 percent in a decade. That would prevent the release of 2 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking 230,000 cars off the road, Case said.

The Office of the People's Counsel raised objections to an earlier version of the bill, worrying that customers would be forced to install expensive equipment. But Case said the company initially would foot the bill for the pilot program, though he said it could later try to recover the cost through customers' electric bills. The Public Service Commission would have to approve such a charge.

Andrew A. Green

Toll facilities chief named

Gov. Martin O'Malley turned to a veteran administrator to run the state's toll facilities yesterday as the Maryland Transportation Authority named Ronald L. Freeland as the agency's executive secretary.

Freeland, who ran the Maryland Transit Administration for four years under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, will take control of the authority's operations at a time when it has two major construction projects on its agenda: the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs and the widening of Interstate 95 to the northeast of Baltimore. The authority also runs the state's toll bridges and tunnels.

Freeland, 59, has spent the past six years in the private sector, most recently with the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton. He replaces Trent Kittleman, an appointee of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a Republican Party activist who was asked to resign by the incoming administration.

Michael Dresser

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