Brief, intense special session kicks off with target on Bartlett’s back

October 17, 2011 at 6:13 am

State House with scaffolding on dome.

Scaffolding still envelops the State House dome as a repainting job is finished.

The 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly return to the State House today for what promises to be a brief but intense special session to redraw congressional district lines.

It kicks off at 10 a.m. with a press conference by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, the principal architects of the plan O’Malley officially unveiled Saturday evening after a week of largely negative comments from the public concerning a plan submitted earlier by a five-person advisory committee.

The plan the governor submitted, as he promised, is “substantially similar” to the one recommended by the advisory committee on which Busch and Miller served. O’Malley did little to mollify the critics of the original plan, though he did return some of the Democratic-leaning precincts taken away from Montgomery County Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the party’s attempt to target Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the 6th Congressional District
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Despite loud, public and bipartisan outcries about the lack of a third minority district, it was actually Van Hollen – not Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s — who lost the most minority and Democratic voters, according to a chart prepared by the Baltimore Sun based on figures from the state Democratic Party.

Morning session, afternoon hearing

The House and Senate will come into session at 11:30 a.m. to introduce the governor’s plan and several alternatives from the GOP, along with bills on other topics that are not expected to be acted on. The Senate will promptly pass a rule to form a new, large standing Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting to be chaired by Sen. James Robey, a Howard County Democrat.

At 1 p.m., the new committee along with the House Rules Committee – also a large group of legislative leaders – will convene a joint hearing that is likely to last most of the afternoon.
MarylandReporter.com will be updating events throughout the day with a live blog LINK post that will be running above this story on the home page.

While as many as 40 members of the House and Senate listen to testimony on congressional district lines and two bills on school board districts, the six standing committees of the House will get briefings on topics such as budget mandates, health benefits exchange, community colleges and other matters. (With more than a third of the 47-member Senate on the redistricting committee, its four standing committees will not be meeting.)

Wrap up Tuesday or Wednesday

In a brief conversation last week, Robey said the committees would try to wrap up their work on redistricting today, or tomorrow morning if they go late.

Both houses could conceivably vote on a bill Tuesday, although that would require getting a super-majority to pass the redistricting as an emergency bill so that it would go into effect as soon as the governor signs it. That requires 85 votes from the 141 delegates and 29 from the 47 senators. Finishing up on Tuesday would also require a suspension of the rules to vote on a bill twice in the same day.

Fast action is necessary to meet a Jan. 11 filing deadline for congressional candidates for the April 3 primary, and to allow for any court action on lawsuits likely to be filed against the plan.

Three House committees are already planning hearings on Wednesday, and the House Environmental Matters Committee says its hearing on Chesapeake Bay nutrient control will happen at 11:30 a.m. or “immediately following session,” indicating some leaders are expecting a three-day session.

GOP no longer hoping for black alliance

At the Monday hearing, Republicans will be offering several very different plans that create three minority districts, and three that favor Republicans. They had been hoping for an alliance with the Black Legislative Caucus to support an alternative map, but a meeting this weekend indicated the caucus was likely to support the governor’s plan when it meets again this morning.

On a Facebook posting, Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, Harford-Cecil, said she and House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, Calvert, “will present our bill together. Hope lots of people show up and object to O’Malley’s exercise in partisan gerrymandering. We were hoping to have the support of the black caucus — evidently we won’t.”

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