he Maryland House of Delegates threw a scare into the delegations from Prince George's County and Baltimore City today, failing by one vote to approve a new lottery game that would provide the two money-strapped jurisdictions with about $26 million in the coming year.
As soon as the 70-62 vote on the "Lotto" game was on the board, one vote short of the 71 (a majority of the full House) required to pass, Del. Dennis C. McCoy, chairman of the city delegation, was on his feet asking that the bill be reconsidered on Tuesday.
Two delegates from Prince George's were not on the floor at the time of the vote and their presence would have meant passage.
The votes of Dels. Francis J. Santangelo and Joseph F. Vallario Jr. would seem to ensure that the bill will survive its final chance to get through the House tomorrow. Still, advocates of the bill, led by McCoy and Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), were quite nervous and spent most of the afternoon after the vote working the floor.
The "Lotto" bill, if passed, would funnel money from the new game directly to the counties based on how many tickets each sold. In the past, all lottery money has gone directly into the state's general fund. Opponents argue that the new formula would set a dangerous precedent and that is one of the reasons the vote is so close.
"If the 70 votes we had today hold, we're okay," said Devlin. "But I'm not sure they're all solid. We'll have to keep working this right until we vote."
Devlin and his colleagues apparently found willing listeners in the form of advocates of another bill that was killed today, one that would give the state insurance commissioner sole authority over insurance rates. The bill would take away the authority of the Human Relations Commission to investigate complaints that a high rate was set because of sexual or racial discrimination.
The bill died by a 62-59 vote on the floor today after heavy lobbying against it by women and black delegates. Many labeled the bill a "snake," noting that its sponsor Kenneth H. Masters (D-Baltimore County) is a former insurance company lobbyist.
The floor fight against the insurance bill was led by Majority Leader Donald B. Robertson, who rarely involves himself in such a battle. Robertson, after peppering the bill's floor manager Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) with technical questions about rate setting, told the House, "It would be a very grave error to pass this bill."
Robertson's speech, along with the concerted lobbying against the bill, which had convinced many delegates to not vote, killed the bill.
But, as soon as "Lotto" died, advocates of the insurance bill were seen huddling with city and Prince George's delegates although all denied that any vote trading was going on.
Nevertheless, the insurance bill will also be brought back for reconsideration on Tuesday.
There was one final bit of political intrigue during today's lengthy session. Virtually the entire Montgomery County delegation voted against the, "Lotto," bill in spite of the fact that some delegates from Prince George's and Baltimore had threatened that if the Montgomery delegates did that, they would vote against the county's club discrimination bill.
A vote on that bill was delayed until Tuesday and, if the city and Prince George's delegates decide to play hardball, the vote on it could be very close. "It's going to be an interesting 24 hours," said Del. Mary Boergers (D-Montgomery). "I'm sure people will be trading right up until the moment of the votes."