Special Session: An excuse to do little – Part 2
In yesterday’s column the stage was set for General Assembly action on the Baltimore Gas & Electric rate situation, and consideration of a child sexual predator law. It was a long day.
The final Wednesday session was scheduled to begin at 8 P.M. At 8:30, the Speaker’s office announced the session would actually begin at 9. In fact, it didn’t really start until 10.
After a few technology glitches and delays, the second reading process got underway on the BG&E bill. Republicans offered several amendments, most notably:
- Stripping away the mandatory participation provision;
- Eliminating the provision requiring any appeals to this new law to be filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court;
- Stripping the provision that allows the Maryland attorney; general to appoint the People’s Counsel, a right currently granted to the governor.
Even Democrats got into the act, offering a very controversial amendment to the bill to allow municipal aggregation. Aggregation is the practice of a local government acting as a middleman between the consumer and the power company. Thurmont is an aggregator, as is Hagerstown.
The aggregation amendment presented an opportunity for the strange bedfellow thing, as a number of Democrats supported the bill for policy reasons, while Republicans voted for the amendment in order to put the House bill in a posture different from the Senate bill. In the end, the aggregation amendment failed.
The final House vote on the Senate bill occurred around 12:45 A.M., with 27 Republicans voting against the bill. That means that almost half of the Republican Caucus voted for the bill. Most Republicans that have a majority of their constituents served by Baltimore Gas & Electric voted in favor of the bill in spite of the obvious objections of the Ehrlich Administration.
The Child Sexual Predator bill, sponsored by every single member of the House, zipped through on a unanimous vote. The second reader vote tally was taken at 1 A.M., but the House and Senate versions were slightly different. The House was recessed until 1:30 A.M. to buy time for printing the third reader version. As previous Journal entries have proven, time seems to stretch here in Annapolis. The House reconvened at 1:45, and passed the bill on another unanimous vote. With two different versions, we adjourned again in order for the Senate to act. The planned reconvening time was 3 A.M.
So the House reconvened a little after 3:45, and by 4:37 A.M. we were able to pass a bill that includes a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-degree sex offense against a child.
The major unresolved question is whether Governor Ehrlich vetoes the bill, signs it, or allows it to become Maryland law without his signature. He plans to hold a hearing today to allow BG&E ratepayers to come and express their opinion. I really like that idea, since the General Assembly hearing featured Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan, and turned into a silly political show, not a true public airing.
So, here’s your chance to play governor. What follows are the promises made by Senator Miller and Speaker Busch, and my analysis of the actual affect of the legislation. At the end, you decide whether a veto is warranted or not:
Promise: Senate President Miller was quoted before the Special Session saying: “The 72% rate increase will not stand.” Speaker Busch said something very similar.
Analysis: The bill that passed both chambers allows for 15% rate increase, with as much as a 57% increase next June when the new temporary rate cap is lifted. I don’t know about you, but my arithmetic says that adds up to 72%.
Promise: Both Senator Miller and Delegate Busch attacked the PSC and the governor’s rate plans, disparaging both plans as far too little in terms of rate relief.
Analysis: The bill that passed both chambers represents a 4% improvement over the governor’s plan, and a 6% improvement over the PSC plan. Wow, what a staggering improvement. What would we do without these guys?
Promise: Senator Miller and Delegate Busch both criticized the PSC and the governor’s plans for creating a debt that had to be paid off by BG&E customers.
Analysis: Under Ehrlich’s plan, the debt would be financed through 15 months of interest payments. Miller/Busch, intent on doing better, crafted a plan that lowers the amount to be paid monthly, but stretches the payments out over 120 months. For a BG&E customer, the electric they use for the next 11 months will be paid for over the next 10 years! That sounds like a Mafia deal!
If I were Governor Ehrlich, I would veto this thing so fast a sonic boom would rattle Annapolis. Force Senate President Miller and Speaker of The House Busch to bring their automatons back to the State House, require them to muster the votes for an override, and then watch the outrage when BG&E consumers realize how badly they were misled by the majority.