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Senate vote on slots bill is postponed

February 18, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Just minutes before the Maryland Senate convened Thursday morning, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said a vote on Gov. Robert Ehrlich's bill to legalize slot machine gambling in Maryland could happen then - or today.

When the question was called shortly thereafter, Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus quietly stood and asked that the bill be "special ordered" to today - meaning the vote would be postponed.

The request, he said, should not be construed as a change in support for the bill, which Republicans like Stoltzfus have been touting since before the General Assembly convened last month.

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Although it wasn't evident on the surface, the undercurrent was all about another bill - one that Republicans fear would disenfranchise them.

The bill would alter the state's election laws to allow an administrator to oversee state elections, with advice from a 12-member committee appointed by various officials and agencies. The administrator, however, would be appointed by a committee including the Board of State Canvassers - the Secretary of State, the Comptroller, the State Treasurer, the Clerk of the Court of Appeals and the Attorney General - and two members appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, respectively.

What's wrong with that picture?

Nearly all of them would be Democrats.

And that's a few more Democrats than the Republicans want.

"It could eliminate Republicans from the decision-making process within the election board," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

What does all that have to do with slots?

Not a thing, Munson said. The Republicans in the Senate wanted to get Miller's attention on the issue, he said, so they stalled the vote on a bill Miller ardently supports. "We were having a discussion to see if we could have a discussion with Mike Miller," Munson said.

Versions of the bill have been filed in both the Senate and the House of Delegates. The House Ways and Means Committee conducted a hearing on the bill Thursday afternoon. Committee member LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington, said the bill is unfair to the Republicans. He said the five-member board that currently oversees state elections works just fine. Myers said several reviews of the election laws conducted in the last 10 years have concluded as much.

But the new legislation was spurred by Ehrlich's decision last year to replace a Democrat on the board with a Republican, and the majority-Republican board's subsequent attempt to oust the election administrator, Democrat Linda Lamone. That effort was stopped in court. Myers said the new bills are a retaliatory effort by Democrats over the Lamone episode.

A hearing on the Senate bill was scheduled for 1 p.m. today in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

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