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Delegations swap votes over vetoes

January 25, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

After a challenge from Montgomery County Delegation Chairman Charles Barkley, members of the Washington County Delegation voted unanimously for the first time Tuesday to override one of Gov. Robert Ehrlich's vetoes.

The issue was a bill to allow speed cameras in Montgomery County - a local bill that the governor nixed last year.

Barkley rose to his feet during the floor debate on the issue, looked straight at the Washington County delegates and reminded them that he voted with them in past years when the local issue was not traffic cameras, but tip jars.

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And when the vote was taken, all five county delegates sided with Barkley to override Ehrlich's veto.

That's because they wanted Montgomery County's support to get more correctional officers in Western Maryland prisons and to protect Washington County's gaming activities should another bill be filed this year to let the state regulate tip jars.

It's a legislative tradition called "local courtesy."

And it worked.

Montgomery County boasts some pretty powerful legislators, including House Majority Leader Kumar Barve and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson - both key to the Washington County Delegation's interests.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, saw Barve in a House corridor after the vote and made sure he was aware of the delegation's support. Myers also seized the opportunity to lobby for correctional officers.

"Let me know if you have any trouble," Barve said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said Hixson collared him after the vote.

"She gave me a hug and a kiss, and she said, 'I want to thank you very much for that vote; it meant a lot to me."

Hixson is the author of previous bills to regulate tip jars and other charitable gaming - legislation vehemently opposed by county gaming officials.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank said voting against Ehrlich on the override put the lawmakers in "a moral quandary that caught all of us off guard."

That's because most didn't like the bill.

"No way would I ever support speed cameras in Washington County or statewide," Shank said.

But as it had no direct local effect, Shank said, "you have to do what's in the best interest of your constituents."

And in this case, they believed the tradeoff of more correctional officers and protection of tip jar rules was in the county's best interest.

A number of Montgomery County lawmakers voted with the majority of Washington County lawmakers in 2004, when the last local tip jar bill was before the House.

"Sheila Hixson stood on the House floor and said, 'local courtesy means something to us,'" Shank said. And if those delegates had not voted for it, he said, the bill would not have passed. The final tally was 74-55, with 11 abstaining.

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