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Inaction could lead to legislative map passage

February 11, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, left, discusses his proposed alternative legislative redistricting plan Thursday in Annapolis.
By Andrew Schotz

In Annapolis, bills can be killed when they’re assigned to a committee and nothing happens.

For Gov. Martin O’Malley’s state legislative redistricting plan, inaction will have the opposite effect — the new map will become law unless lawmakers change it.

With less than two weeks to go before a deadline, the governor’s plan is looking increasingly likely to become final as is. There’s no sign the legislature will have a chance to amend or even consider the plan.

O’Malley, a Democrat, presented his map to the General Assembly when this year’s session began on Jan. 11. It was assigned to the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee in the House and the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee in the Senate.

By law, the legislature has 45 days — until Feb. 24 — to amend the plan, or it becomes law.

At least six alternative redistricting plans have been submitted in the House — not including one that, as of late last week, Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, was planning to file.

But no one in the Senate had filed a replacement plan.

Without a Senate alternative, there’s no reason to hold hearings on the legislative redistricting plan, both Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said.

Both Democrats served on O’Malley’s redistricting committee and both said it’s up to the opposite chamber to take the lead.

“I spoke with the speaker,” Miller said. “They have some requests for hearing on the House side. We haven’t had any requests for hearings in terms of bills being introduced, amendments being introduced, in the Senate side. So, until such time as we have that, I’m going to wait for the House.”

But Busch, also noting that there haven’t been any alternative plans proposed in the Senate, said, “Right now, we’re waiting to see what action the Senate takes.”

Every 10 years, states must redraw their congressional and state legislative boundaries based on updated information from the U.S. Census.

Maryland’s new congressional plan included major changes to the 6th District, making it tougher for Republican incumbent Roscoe G. Bartlett to hold his seat.

In the legislative redistricting proposal, Washington County would lose two members of its delegation, as the southern tip of the county shifts from District 3, which is mostly in Frederick County, to District 2, which is the bulk of Washington County.

Also, District 1 would move farther into Washington County and subdistricts 2A and 2B would be melded into one subdistrict with two delegates.

The General Assembly approved new congressional districts for Maryland in October, although it drew several court challenges.

One group of plaintiffs backed by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, the Maryland Republican Party and others is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the plan.

A U.S. District Court judge on Thursday dismissed a separate challenge by Guy F. Martin Jr., who argued that, based on the U.S. Constitution, Maryland was entitled to 192 representatives in Congress instead of eight.

Howard L. Gorrell, who lives near Smithsburg, wrote in an email on Friday that he is planning to ask an appellate court send his case back to U.S. District Court so he can amend his complaint.

Gorrell alleged that the congressional redistricting was gerrymandering and that it unconstitutionally separated farmers, “a community of interest,” but a judge ruled against him.

Hough said Thursday that he’s following through on his plan to propose a new state legislative map for Maryland in which every delegate is in a single-member district. It would eliminate subdistricts where two or three delegates are grouped together and have to represent many more people.

He called that an “incumbent protection” map that underrepresents minorities and rural areas, which tend to be more Republican.

Hough, who has been working with the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, said he doesn’t expect his plan to succeed in the General Assembly. But he wants it available as an option when there’s a court challenge over the legislative redistricting plan, which he expects will happen.

He said he expects a Democratic African-American delegate from Prince George’s County will co-sponsor his plan, although he wasn’t ready to say yet who that would be.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, told a Leadership Washington County group visiting Annapolis on Thursday, “Will it make it to the House floor? No, it will be killed in committee. But at least it’s a viable alternative.”

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said there’s been relatively little discussion in the Senate about the legislative redistricting plan. “There’s more concern on the House side,” he said.

The House has more of a philosophical reason to challenge the plan, particularly because of how delegates were grouped, than the Senate, where boundaries were adjusted, said Sen. David R. Brinkley, R-Carroll/Frederick.

“The governor tried to deal with people and their districts as best as he possibly could,” Miller said. “Of the 47 senators, Democrat or Republican, no two senators are combined in any district. And no senator was really disenfranchised from the legislative district .... That’s why we haven’t seen any alternatives to that plan.”

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said there were months of public hearings on redistricting. The public, as well as delegates and senators, had ample opportunity to comment, she said.

Now, it’s up to the Senate president and House speaker to decide whether the plan needs further discussion in their chambers, she said.

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