ANNAPOLIS – Senate Republicans postponed a vote Thursday on a bill to legalize slot machine gambling, a response to what they said was an attempt to “railroad” an unrelated but politically sensitive bill.
The move came a day after the Democratic-controlled chamber was set to approve a modified version of Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s bill, which would use slots revenue for public schools.
The Republicans huddled just before the session opened Thursday morning and then asked to put off voting on the slots bill — which most Republicans support — until Friday.
Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, said Republicans were upset that Democrats had accelerated the voting schedule of two bills without consulting the minority party.
The first was the slots bill. The second was a bill to abolish the state Board of Elections and give the state Administrator of Elections sole authority over conducting elections in Maryland.
“I think that (Democrats) want to railroad this bill through and get it passed before people start talking” about the bill, Harris said.
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said the delay was “not indicative of any waning of support for the governor’s stand on slots,” but purely a matter of “procedure.” He said the Senate usually waits two days to vote on a bill after initial floor debate.
Under current law, the Board of Elections appoints the administrator. Under the proposal, an existing seven-member panel called the Board of State Canvassers, composed of top state officials, and the leaders of the two chambers of the Legislature, would appoint the administrator.
That panel’s current roster consists of six Democrats and one Republican. Harris said this would make state elections oversight a partisan operation.
“This is a way to begin one-party control of the election process for 2006 and beyond,” Harris said. “I don’t care which one party controls — you do not want the election process controlled by a single party.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said the bill is intended to “depoliticize” the Board of Elections, whose five members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
Hollinger said the governor last year promised Democrats to appoint two of their own party to the Board of Elections.
“He certainly hasn’t kept his word,” she said.
Elections Administrator Linda Lamone was at the center of political ire last year. The Republican-controlled Elections Board tried to fire her, a move Democrats said was an attempt to gain more control over elections. Lamone challenged the removal in court and held onto her job.
The elections bill had been scheduled for hearing Feb. 24 in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee but was moved to Friday.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard Colburn of Dorchester, said he was not told about the change until Thursday morning.