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Senate votes to override three Ehrlich vetoes

January 16, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

For the first time in 15 years, the Maryland Senate used its veto override powers by passing an energy conservation bill and two others that had been rejected by Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

The three bills now go to the House of Delegates, which is expected to follow suit as soon as today.

All 14 Republicans in the Senate, including Washington County's three senators, tried to block Thursday's veto override but were trumped by the Democrat majority.

They argued that legislature should uphold Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto regardless of policy differences.

"We felt like the governor has this prerogative," said Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Eastern Shore.

The last time the Maryland General Assembly overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 1989, with a bill that gave optometrists the power to administer eye drops, said Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington.

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This time, three bills are at stake, including two that would only affect a small number of people in Baltimore city.

The most significant of the three is legislation that would set minimum efficiency standards for some appliances sold in the state.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, argued that it would save enough money to provide energy to 75,000 homes.

Opponents said energy efficiency standards should be set by the federal government.

"Once again, it's making Maryland an island. It's making Maryland uncompetitive when dealing with our neighbors," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

It's expected to add $100 to the cost of a new washing machine, Shank said.

Proponents said both consumers and businesses will save money in the long run because of lower utility costs.

Shank accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Ehrlich with the political maneuver.

"Tradition is to reintroduce the bill to accommodate the governor. Instead, it's the stick-it-in-the-governor's-eye approach that's quickly setting the tone," he said.

The other two bills that were overridden in the Senate would prevent liquor stores in one part of Baltimore city from being located near schools and churches and would allow 51 city child support enforcement employees to get retirement credit for years they worked for the agency when it was run by a private company.

"They're minor bills and obviously there's nothing we can do about it," Ehrlich said.

The Senate put off another controversial debate until Tuesday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to change the rules to make it virtually impossible for Republicans and others in the minority to filibuster. The threat of extended debate has been used to influence legislation.

Under the rules change, the 14 Republicans in the 47-member body would need the help of five Democrats to filibuster. Right now, they need two.

In the House on Thursday, Democrats blocked a Republican effort to call for another vote on last year's tax bill. The vote was delayed until after the budget bill is passed late in the session.

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