Opponents of legislation to give wide-reaching relief to the unemployed killed the bill today on the Senate floor through a rarely used motion that left the measure in parliamentary limbo for the duration of the legislative session.
The so-called Unemployed Bill of Rights seemed headed Tuesday for passage. But a motion today by Sen. Lawrence Levitan (D-Montgomery) to cut off debate and indefinitely postpone consideration won by a 27-to-19 vote after a few supporters said they were leery of hours of emotional debate.
In addition, some senators from Prince George's County who indicated earlier that they would support the measure changed their mind to back Levitan as a way of trying to woo Montgomery County votes needed in the future on an unrelated lottery bill that will bring money to Prince George's.
"This is a criminal move," said Sen. Nathan C. Irby (D-Baltimore), as the Senate tally board lit up with enough green "yea" votes to pass Levitan's so-called killer amendment. "This is like turning our backs on the tens of thousands of unemployed in this state."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Julian S. Lapides (D-Baltimore), who had only a few minutes warning that the motion was coming, quickly rose to his feet to denounce Levitan as soon as the vote was taken.
"He has considered mortgage bills, he has bank bills, he has big business bills and he has never made a motion to cut off debate," said an angry Lapides. "Then we have the unemployed and he closes off debate. This is one of the shabbiest moves I have ever seen. I want him Levitan to know I'll get even."
Said Levitan, chairman of the Senate Budget and Tax Committee, after making the motion, "I think something should've been done this year for people who've reached the end of their unemployment benefits but unfortunately, the approach taken in this bill is not the proper approach."
Opponents of the measure had said it held out false hope for the unemployed.
The bill, pushed by an organization of the unemployed, would have provided broad protections to any out-of-work Marylander who had exhausted federal and state unemployment benefits and had little other income on which to draw.
Among the protections were six-month extensions on foreclosures and mortgage payments, six-month postponements on half the rent of a home and free legal protection in certain cases by the state Legal Services Corporation.
"The Senate said to the unemployed today, 'Drop dead,' " said Keith Brooks, an unemployed steel worker and an organizer of Baltimore-based United Committee of Unemployed People.
Among those who decided to vote today for the amendment killing the bill was Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George's). Miller opposed the bill Tuesday but last night said he had changed his mind and would support it.
By morning, however, Miller had reversed himself again after considering the possibility that voting for Levitan's amendment might persuade Levitan to vote for the lottery bill Prince George's is pushing.