ANNAPOLIS – The Senate delayed debate on the heavily amended slot machine bill until a special session scheduled for later in the week after a senator insisted on more time to answer questions and craft amendments.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, objected to discussion on the floor Wednesday because he had not had time to study the bill after it emerged with significant changes from Budget and Taxation Committee Tuesday night. The committee passed the bill 11-2.
“I would have preferred to have another 24 hours, but if I have to have my amendments by (Thursday) then I will,” Pinsky said. “I don’t want people to skate on this one. I want them to know exactly what they’re voting for.”
Pinsky voted against last year’s Senate slot machine legislation.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, told the Senate “It is unequivocally important that we give everyone a chance” to ask questions and propose amendments.
Miller threatened a Thursday evening or even a Saturday session if the slots bill does not come to a final vote by Friday.
“There’s no rush on the bill, but there’s a bill behind it that we’d like to pass before the 50th day of the session,” Miller said. The 50th day, March 3, would set in motion funding decreases in the massive Thornton education reform plan. A House bill to repeal that trigger provision is next on the Senate docket.
Many factors can influence the order in which bills are considered on the floor, including funding ties, order of business within the chamber and effective dates, according to Senate rules. But the presiding officer may decide the flow of business during the session.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s slots proposal this year called for 15,500 slot machines at four racetracks and two off-track sites.
The Senate version would distribute 15,500 machines among three racetracks and three off-track facilities. Pimlico, Laurel Park, Rosecroft and a proposed track in Allegany County would have to compete for the three available track gambling licenses.
The three off-track slots licenses also would be awarded competitively and could be located in Prince George’s, Cecil and Dorchester counties, or Baltimore City.
One-time licensing fees from the tracks would provide $52 million in fiscal year 2005 for a provision in the Thornton education reforms that accounts for cost differences among the counties. Track owners would receive no more than 36 percent of slots revenue. After distributions for local development grants and race purses, the remaining revenue would go to the Education Trust Fund.
Ehrlich’s first slots bill passed the Budget and Taxation Committee last year by the same 11-2 vote. That proposal narrowly passed the Senate 25-21, but was killed in the House of Delegates.
Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the efforts to pass the legislation in the Senate by the end of the week showed a determination to deal efficiently with the bill, which the House will take up should it clear the Senate.
“The longer the debate,” Busch said, “the more laborious the vote.”