ANNAPOLIS – The sound of the gavel at high noon signaled the opening of the 2001 Maryland General Assembly session Wednesday, where there was little business and much ceremony conducted.
Children sat in chambers usually reserved for their legislator parents, while political dignitaries blessed the proceedings. But the realities of political power intruded when three senators opposed and four abstained from voting to return Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to his long-held position.
Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Frederick, explained his nay vote was a protest over Miller’s handling of last year’s gun-control legislation. Miller abused his power as Senate president, Ferguson said, by pulling the bill out of committee before it had completed its review.
Ferguson, a member of the National Rifle Association, said the state got a bad bill because it was pulled out of committee without the changes it needed. The gun control bill, mandating gun locks and ballistic fingerprinting for new weapons, was Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s marquee legislative piece last session.
Ferguson said he voted for Miller the past two years and would do so again next year, but decided to protest because the speaker had trampled the right of the committee to do its work.
The effect was little more than the ripple caused by a different protest last month against Miller. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell briefly conducted an attempt to oust Miller as president. The Baltimore County Democrat had gotten some notable support from the likes of Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George’s, but Miller’s tenure as the Senate’s longest serving president continued.
In the House of Delegates Wednesday, Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, was re-elected speaker of the House, and his lieutenant, Thomas E. Dewberry, D- Baltimore County, speaker pro-tem.
Even in the House, the stately atmosphere went awry. Taylor introduced his wife, Polly, as his “helpmate,” but then, oddly introduced Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his “helpmate” Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Glendening is separated from his wife, Frances.
The Legislature will begin its real work today. The battles will be over budget priorities, and not all of them between Democrats and Republicans. Revenue forecasts are beginning to shrink the money available, and there are signs that legislators are getting nervous about how the pie will be divided.
Taylor is predicting the governor’s budget – to be released next week – will have to be cut by $200 million. Only increased spending for elementary and secondary education is on both the governor’s and the House Democratic list of priorities.
The governor plans to move ahead with $1.3 billion in campus construction projects for the state’s colleges and universities, and with several Smart Growth initiatives to support land preservation, community redevelopment and expand mass transit.
Taylor released an agenda of 15 initiatives for the House of Delegates, including creating an office of women’s health, Medicaid expansion, pharmacy assistance, job training for welfare recipients and corporate tax restructuring.
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