Decision on ties led to budget stalemate
Bolling: No regrets about January’s ‘measured opinion’
RICHMOND | The groundwork for a lingering budget standoff in the General Assembly might well have been laid Jan. 3 — roughly a week before lawmakers were scheduled to arrive in town.
Democrats had filed a lawsuit about the tie-breaking authority of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, seeking to define his ability to cast votes on organizing the Senate, split evenly between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans after the November elections. Lieutenant governors routinely break ties on bills, but could he vote on the budget? On the appointment of judges?
On Jan. 3, Mr. Bolling issued a memo declaring that he could cast tie-breaking votes on matters of organization but not on the budget. Nearly three months later, lawmakers gaveled in a special session Wednesday to begin work officially on a budget impasse that might not have occurred without that January decision.
The Republican lieutenant governor’s selfdescribed “measured opinion” primed the pump for what was to unfold in the next two months. The GOP organized the Senate as an effective majority, Democrats voted in lock step to block two budgets, and now a small group of lawmakers is huddled in Richmond trying to work out a new two-year spending plan before the fiscal year ends June 30.
Despite the impasse, Mr. Bolling has no regrets about his decision.
“Senate Democrats said from Day One that they were going to obstruct the adoption of the budget, and they were going to obstruct the election of judges,” Mr. Bolling said. “And they said from Day One that they were going to do that because they didn’t like the way the Senate was organized.
“I thought that was a terribly irresponsible action for them to take. And my hope is that as time has progressed that they have seen that and have moved beyond that. We’ll see. I hope they have.”
Mr. Bolling acknowledged that he would have been justified in saying he could break a tie on the budget.
University of Virginia professor A.E. Dick Howard, who helped write the modern Virginia Constitution, said in an unofficial legal opinion in 1996 that the purview of the lieutenant governor on tiebreakers was virtually unlimited.
Mr. Bolling said Mr. Howard “basically opined that the lieutenant governor could vote on anything.” He said Democrats were ready to pounce on Mr. Howard’s opinion in 1996, the last time the chamber was evenly split, and push Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr.’s authority even further than did Mr. Bolling before state Sen. Virgil Goode, Rocky Mount Democrat, threatened to bolt the Republican
so all employees there could be tested for alcohol consumption. None of the employees at the station was found to have been drinking.
Punishment of 24-hour suspensions was proposed for two men working at the station, but disciplinary action was left to Chief Sterne. He issued reprimand letters to the two men after determining that “no intentional misconduct” occurred.
“Your failure to hold the members accountable for their receipt of the beer in violation of the Rules of Conduct brings into question your ability to exercise proper judgment in the performance of your assigned duties,” Chief Ellerbe wrote to Chief Sterne in a January notice advising him of the proposed reduction in rank.
A lawyer representing Chief Sterne said he intends to file an appeal on the matter with the District’s Office of Employee Appeals.
“We intend to challenge them to prove the facts of this case, and I don’t think they will be able to do it,” attorney James Pressler said.
The reduction-in-rank papers stated that the action was “supported by a preponderance of evidence,” but provided no additional context for the decision.
Chief Ellerbe previously declined to speak about Chief Sterne’s proposed demotion because it was a personnel matter. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The state Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday considered a bill to require hospitals and abortion providers to report the number of pregnancies they terminate.
The bill would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to collect demographic information including the age, race and marital status of women treated in Maryland.
Proponents say the bill would improve women’s health care.
Sen. Barry Glassman, Harford Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said collecting the data would help the state better assess pregnancy rates.
Opponents including representatives from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union say the measure would increase the intimidation women seeking abortions already feel.
DHMH officials say the reporting requirement would be “unprecedented” and that collecting the data offers no clear public health benefit.
A Greenbelt man was found shot inside a burning car at a Fort Washington apartment complex, Prince George’s County police said.
Cpl. Evan Baxter, a police spokesman, said officers were called to the 1100 block of Palmer Road about 1 a.m. Wednesday for a report of the sound of gunshots.
Police said officers found a burning vehicle and Marcellus Jermaine Jackson was inside, suffering from apparent gunshot wounds.
An officer pulled Jackson, 33, from the vehicle and tried to put out the blaze. Jackson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said detectives are working