By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - In a series of party-line votes, Democrats in the state Senate on Tuesday squashed attempts by Republicans to adjust procedural rules that would have given the GOP's diminished minority more of a chance to influence legislation.
In one of its longest debates of the month-old session, the Senate spent more than an hour tussling over things like filibusters, recorded votes in committee and procedures to change a bill into a proposed constitutional amendment.
Two of the proposals were put forth by Republicans. They failed, 14-33. One was proposed by the Democrats. It passed, 33-14.
"We're in a honeymoon period and in a cooperative mode, but today you saw some of the partisanship in the voting," said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, after the Senate adjourned. "We're only on the 28th day of the session. We'll see what happens for the rest of the 90 days."
The most important of the proposed rules changes would have made it more difficult for a majority to end debate on a bill and call for an up or down vote. Unlike the House of Delegates, the Senate permits what is known as a filibuster - a non-stop debate on an issue - as long as more than two-fifths of the 47 Senators agree to let the talking continue.
Republicans, who presumably see themselves on the losing end of a half-dozen major partisan issues scheduled for votes this session, attempted to raise the bar for the majority trying to end debate to two-thirds of the Senate. That would require three more votes than it does now, or exactly the number of seats the GOP lost in the last election.
A second Republican proposal would have required a recorded vote in committee on every bill heard by the 89th day of the 90-day legislative session. With an average of 900 bills moving through the Senate each year, Democrats argued that not only is the possibility of such a task questionable, but that putting every separate bill to a recorded vote would slow the process down.
"There are times, particularly financial, when not voting is the best thing," said Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard.
Those pushing for more recorded votes said that they were speaking on behalf of their constituents who testify in front of a committee for bills that never even get to a vote.
"I would plead with you to let those votes go out," said Sen. J. Robert Hooper, R-Harford. "The people at home don't understand. They come back to me and say 'you didn't do it,' or 'you didn't get it done.'"
When their turn came, the Democrats passed a rule to eliminate the possibility of a bill being turned into a constitutional amendment on the Senate floor. Republicans have at times turned to this tactic as a way of getting legislation before the voters, who must approve constitutional amendments at the ballot box. "The minority has a right to be heard," said Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, R-Frederick, who called for an open legislative process. "We have to be able to offer this on the Senate floor or we don't get heard."