ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate, trying to preserve their right to make last-minute changes to legislation, agreed Tuesday to introduce two late bills to overturn a Court of Appeals decision.
The House voted 123-5 to introduce a bill loosening the so-called one- subject rule for legislation. The Senate also approved introducing a similar bill in a voice vote.
In a March 14 decision, Maryland’s highest court ruled that a law passed in 1998 was unconstitutional because of the method used to approve it. The Legislature attached the measure, which had been voted down earlier, to another more popular piece of legislation in the waning days of the session, according to published reports.
The one-subject rule upheld by the court is designed to keep legislators from tacking unrelated items onto their bills, and legislators said they want the freedom to interpret it more broadly.
“Many states recognize that the purpose of the one-subject rule is to prevent riders from being attached to bills that are popular … an additional purpose of the single-subject rule is to protect the integrity of the governor’s veto power,” the court stated.
Governors can more easily veto unfavorable legislation if it is not attached to a popular item.
The court ruling upset several Maryland lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, and House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany.
“The ruling destroyed the way we have been interpreting the one-issue subject, and we’ve been considering putting it back where it was,” Taylor, the sponsor, said. “If we don’t correct it now, we’re going to potentially open ourselves up to a lot of lawsuits.”
Five delegates voted against Taylor’s proposal, saying it was an overly fast move that would change important processes.
“It would be unwise to rush into this. We have 15 days left in this session. The very worst thing we could do would be to overturn the court without careful thought and consideration,” said Delegate Leon Billings, D-Montgomery, one of the losing five lawmakers.
Delegate James Ports, R-Baltimore County, was also opposed, saying: “Each bill ought to stand on its own merit.”
The proposal to change the one-subject rule is a “last ditch effort to intrude into the process as we know it,” said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R- Carroll. “It really diminishes faith in the process.”
Delegates Donald Murphy, R-Baltimore County, and Dana Dembrow, D- Montgomery, were the others voting against introducing the House bill.
The Senate bill and the House bill will be introduced Wednesday and assigned to committees, which will decide whether or not to submit them for a floor vote.