By: Bryan P. Sears, Daily Record March 17, 2014
Crossover day in the General Assembly.
It’s that special spring moment when both the House of Delegates and the Senate pass as many bills as are deemed deserving (and can be passed in the time allotted) and send them across the hall to the opposite chamber.
Missing the deadline means being sent to the Rules Committee— an added legislative hurdle to jump before it can become a law.
Meeting the deadline isn’t an absolute promise of success but it guarantees bills get a committee hearing in the opposing chamber.
At least it’s supposed to work that way.
All of this is a really long way of saying that Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Monday vowed to hold a number of bills passed earlier in the day by the House of Delegates.
The House drew Miller’s ire when it decided to adjourn after a 5 p.m. floor session, thus condemning any bills passed by the Senate to go to the House Rules Committee.
Typically on any given Monday, both chambers meet in the evening around 8 p.m. So the House holding an 11 a.m. and a short 5 p.m. session before going home for the night was unusual.
An aide to Miller said the House never told them they were going in early or adjourning early for the night. “It’s a courtesy,” the aide said of the notification.
Here’s what Miller told his senators Monday night:
We’re really way ahead of the game.
The House passed a lot of bills this weekend and we’re very proud of them. Unfortunately, it took 30 days for them to pass their first bill this session. We passed 135 bills by the time they passed their first one bill.
So, in a snit, I guess, what they’ve decided to do is they are going to say anything we pass today is going to the Rules Committee.
It’s never happened before. It’s never going to happen again.
So, we’re just going to wait. The bills that they passed, we’re not going to read them across the desk.
I’m going to meet with (House Speaker Michael Busch) tomorrow and see if we can’t work this out because if we can’t work it out, the bills that they passed are going to go to the Rules Committee.
The Senate chamber then erupted into applause.
Exactly what Miller believes “the snit” is in the House is anyone’s guess.
Miller has been pushing this session to get legislators to move faster on bills. Additionally, he pushed a rules change that moved crossover date from two weeks before the April 7 end of session to three weeks before, thus forcing the House to move faster, too.
He was less direct when speaking to reporters after the Senate adjourned for the night.
“We’re about even in terms of bills passed, now,” Miller said. “We’ve just got to move as quickly as we possibly can.”
(A report issued by the Department of Legislative Services shows that the House had passed 517 bills to 381 in the Senate before either chamber met for session on Monday.)
“My understanding is that because they’ve adjourned for the night, they are going to send all our bills, the ones we worked on tonight, to the Rules Committee and I’m saying that’s not the way we’ve ever done it before. Ever. Ever. I’ve been here almost 50 year and you always have Monday night to get a bill over.”
When asked if he thought the House’s maneuver Monday was in retaliation for moving the crossover date, Miller dismissed reporters with a wave as he walked away.
“This is just a bump in the road,” Miller said.
But these bumps in the road can be costly.
In 2012, Miller wanted legislation expanding gambling to a sixth casino earmarked for Prince George’s County. He played chicken with the House, holding the budget down to the end and the General Assembly closed the session without adopting a budget reconciliation plan that caused automatic spending cuts to take effect.
Legislators had to return in May to pass the budget reconciliation plan. Then, in August they came back and passed the gaming legislation that resulted in the casino being built at National Harbor.
“One thing I’ve learned from being down here is that (Miller) doesn’t blink,” said Sen. William C. “Bill” Ferguson IV, D-Baltimore City.
Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick, Washington, took a little pleasure in the political staring contest.
“Good thing the House was in session all day passing bills so Mike Miller could unilaterally disregard,” Hough said via his Twitter account.
“The upside is maybe lots of bad bills will die,” Hough tweeted.