Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) confirmed Thursday that he is making a change in committee assignments that should allow a wind-energy bill — a major priority of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — to advance in the chamber.
Miller said he considers the move “good for the Senate and good for Maryland.” But Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), one of the members being reassigned, said he was dismayed with what he characterized as a “strong-armed tactic.”
For the past two years, O’Malley’s legislation to jump-start Maryland’s wind-power industry has died in the Senate Finance Committee, with Muse among those voicing opposition. Past versions of the bill would have led to small increases in residential electricity bills to provide subsidies for a wind farm off the Atlantic coast.
When the General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Muse will be replaced on the Finance Committee by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), Miller said. Muse will take Ramirez’s seat on the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“I was told I would go there for one year until they get the vote for the wind bill and then possibly go back,” Muse said in an interview. He added that he had not ruled out voting for a wind bill this year but wanted to talk to the governor about it first.
Miller said “a number of factors” led him to make the swap in assignments, including a desire to see the wind bill debated by the full Senate. Without a favorable vote by Senate committees, bills typically do not advance to the floor of the chamber.
“It gives an opportunity for that bill to come to the floor,” said Miller, who made no prediction about how the “volatile issue” would fare once it gets there.
Ramirez said Thursday that he is keeping “an open mind” about this year’s version of the wind legislation, which lawmakers have not seen yet.
“I think if this is something citizens can afford and it benefits the state of Maryland, we can move forward on it,” Ramirez said.
Miller said Muse’s reassignment to the Judicial Proceedings Committee would also serve to increase the number of African Americans on the panel. Miller said the NAACP has been critical of the racial balance on the committee, which has jurisdiction over the death penalty, among other issues.
Last year, only one of the 11 members was an African American. Muse is black.
The NAACP has made repeal of the death penalty in Maryland a leading priority this year.
Ramirez and Muse have voiced support for repealing the death penalty in recent years, so the swap should not affect committee votes on that issue. In recent years, bills to repeal the death penalty have fallen one vote short.
Miller said that he is aware that Muse, who was at odds with Senate leaders on several pieces of legislation last year, is not pleased with the committee reassignments.
“I’m not punishing anybody,” Miller said. “It’s asking people to help the Senate, to help the state of Maryland.”
Miller said other committee changes were contemplated, but that Muse and Ramirez are the only two members he is moving. As president, Miller has sole authority over the committees on which senators serve.