ANNAPOLIS – After a wild floor session where three Republican senators walked out of debate, the Senate approved a rules change that will make filibustering by the minority more difficult.
The GOP opposed the change saying it stifles their voice, and, at one point, called for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, to step aside and allow someone else to oversee debate.
The contentious change, which needed only a majority vote to pass, lowered the number of votes needed to end a filibuster from 32 to 29. Discussion of the change was prompted by a lengthy debate on a tax bill last year and was supported by Miller.
Miller’s spokeswoman, Vicki Fretwell, said the change is modeled after the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rules and reflects a need to keep filibustering from delaying the chamber’s work. But Republican leaders saw the move as a partisan tactic to boost the Democratic majority’s power.
“We don’t see any reason why the rules need to be changed or why minorities need to be further suppressed,” said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset.
Debate was lengthened by seven quorum calls, forcing legislators back to their seats for a roll call.
Baltimore Democratic Sen. Nathaniel McFadden’s motion to limit debate to 30 minutes diverted discussion for a vote.
Deputy Minority Whip Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, objected to the motion and requested Miller step down to allow another member to oversee the debate.
Miller dismissed the appeal and called the vote. Harris unsuccessfully protested, then huffed off the floor before the vote on McFadden’s motion, which passed.
Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, then took the floor to admonish the body for allowing Miller to break Senate procedure by not stepping down and allowing Harris to speak.
“You ignored the rules again,” Mooney shouted, referring to a lengthy debate about gun control in 2000 in which Miller also dismissed an appeal that he step aside for someone else to lead the debate. Dropping his copy of the Senate rules on his desk, Mooney stormed out of the session grousing about the rules.
Then Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, also left, yielding her time to Stoltzfus.
The rule change passed, 27-16. After the session, Harris contended that Miller violated the rules of the Senate by dismissing his appeal.
“(Miller) obviously doesn’t feel that he needs to follow the rules,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a very long 90 days.”
Miller responded that he would not allow the debate to quash his efforts to work with the minority party to pass meaningful legislation.
“Sometimes friends disagree,” Miller said. “These are our friends and we will continue to deal with them as fellow legislators.”
Minority views, he said, will be “afforded the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way.”
Mooney said Republicans must fight Miller, whom he calls “a big bully,” and he’ll “invoke every rule in the rule book” to force the Senate president to publicly recognize his procedural gaffe and apologize.