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Senate Overrides Ehrlich's Vetoes

Bills Aim to Curb Governor's Powers

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page C01

A discordant session of the Maryland General Assembly neared its end yesterday in much the same fashion as it began in January: with Democratic lawmakers muscling through overrides of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s vetoes.

The Senate voted during a rare Saturday session to resurrect a pair of bills that Ehrlich (R) vetoed the night before, both of which aim to curb his powers. One would restrict the governor's appointments to the State Board of Elections, and the other would require him to consult the General Assembly before voicing the state's posture on international trade deals.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., center, with reporters and Chip DiPaula Jr., left, state budget secretary, said legislators were "acting out a little bit." (Photos Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

The House of Delegates yesterday advanced another measure that would limit the governor's powers, in this case his ability to sell state parkland. The legislation is fashioned as a constitutional amendment, subject to the vote of the people on the 2006 ballot -- but not to the governor's veto. The House's final vote on the bill, as well as consideration of the vetoed measures, is set for tomorrow.

Standing on the State House steps, Ehrlich told reporters yesterday that he was hardly surprised, given that the bitterly partisan legislative session, which ends tomorrow, has included several attempts to rein in the state's first Republican governor in a generation.

"I think they're acting out a little bit," said Ehrlich, who is up for reelection next year. "We take that as a very positive sign, that they think we're going to be around for a long time. If they thought we were of a short duration, I don't think we'd be seeing half of these bills. . . . This was a monopoly for some time, and monopolies don't like to be challenged."

In January, lawmakers convened a day before the official start of their 90-day session to overturn Ehrlich's vetoes on a high-profile medical malpractice bill and five other measures.

The session's continued rancor was evident during debates yesterday on a slew of legislation, including a bill that would allow Montgomery County to use speed cameras to issue tickets around school zones. Senate Democrats fended off an amendment by Republicans that would have subjected only Montgomery residents to the $40 tickets.

The bill later cleared the Senate, 29 to 17.

"It's always been partisan here," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), who will conclude his 43rd session in the legislature tomorrow, "but it's been worse this session on both sides of the aisle."

House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) was less charitable in assigning blame.

"I'm concerned about the obstructionist nature of the legislature here," he said. "One branch should not be blurring the lines of separation of powers. It's destructive, and it's very shortsighted."

Few issues have generated more partisan acrimony than the fight over the governor's appointees to the elections board.

Under current law, the governor has the power to appoint all five members of the board, including two from the opposing party. But Ehrlich outraged Democrats last summer by naming to the board a registered Democrat who had supported his 2002 election bid.

The Democrat, Gene Raynor, then joined the three GOP board members in an effort to oust the board's administrator, Linda H. Lamone, a Democrat appointed to the position by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). Lamone's removal was blocked later by a judge.

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