Cumberland Times-News

December 12, 2012

Bottled up

Finance committee makeup may change for sake of one bill

Cumberland Times-News

— There seems to be something inherently wrong with changing the makeup of a legislative committee because it is the only way a bill can be moved along.

Unfortunately, that is what Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller may do in the case of offshore wind legislation.

Miller told The Associated Press this week that he will consider — albeit reluctantly — a change in the Senate Finance Committee’s makeup because the panel has repeatedly bottled up offshore wind legislation, preventing the bill to move to the Senate floor for debate.

At the same time, Miller said he would not be as inclined to make changes to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to advance a repeal of capital punishment, even though that bill, too, is locked up in committee. The difference, Miller said, is the offshore wind measure has not been debated on the Senate floor but capital punishment has been debated by the full Senate in prior years.

"I might have to do that in terms of getting out a wind power bill to the floor, because it's been two years now and two years of testimony and two years of hearings, and environmentalists feel that this is an issue that needs to be debated on the floor, as contrasted to the death penalty, where just three years ago we got it to the floor and had extensive debates and it was modified," Miller, D-Calvert, said.

But this begs the question of which other issues are deemed important enough by legislative leadership to change the makeup of a committee. Exactly what criteria would be used?

Miller’s concern about the environment is laudable. "People have to understand that this is a shared burden for improving planet Earth, and moving our state where a number of other states and European countries are going for the benefit of not just our state but the entire planet," he said.

But the danger in playing musical chairs with legislative committees is that a panel might be rigged just to advance a pet bill of the Senate president or the governor.

Let the merits of legislation stand on their on — and if a legislative committee decides to bottle up a bill, so be it. Voters are intelligent enough to hold legislators accountable if they act irresponsibly.