By Ryan E. Little, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Senate bills may become a hot commodity in Maryland if a rule proposed this week is enacted.
The Senate Rules Committee is planning to meet Friday to consider limiting the number of bills any one senator can propose in the yearly 90-day session of the state’s General Assembly.
The busiest senators have proposed more than 40 bills in past years. Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, wants to cut that to no more than 20.
“Because we hear every bill (in a committee), our time is taken up by legislation that has been defeated time and time again, legislation that has little chance, or legislation that, quite frankly, has not been worked out all the way,” Hough said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
“Legislation that was very technical and complex was getting lost in the weeds.”
New Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, referred the proposal to the Senate Rules Committee but declined to comment through staff Thursday. Ferguson is also a member of the Senate Rules Committee.
In session on Tuesday, he sounded open to the idea.
“Time is our biggest constraint,” Ferguson said. “So, figuring out how we can be more efficient is no doubt an absolute priority moving forward. We appreciate your efforts to bring this to our attention.”
Hough said he based the rule on one governing California state senators and similar rules he said exist in 23 other states. He said it will also save the state money spent on the legislative process, but not all senators think the change is needed.
Ferguson’s predecessor, the recently anointed Senate President Emeritus, Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said the change could hurt senators who represent multiple jurisdictions like he does.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it, but I see very little to gain by it,” Miller told the Capital News Service Thursday.
“It may serve as a warning to some members that might be over extending themselves.”
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, 217 bills had been introduced by senators in the session that started last week. Senators introduced 1,051 bills last session. Four senators introduced more than 40 bills in 2019. All four were Democrats.
Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, introduced 44 bills — the most of all. The self-described “high-offender,” declined to comment on the possible rule change.
Hough’s proposal includes exemptions for bills introduced on behalf of the administration, a chair of a standing committee, an executive department, or local bills.
One member who introduced more than 20 bills last session, Christopher R. “Chris” West, R-Baltimore County, called 15 of the 32 bills he proposed last year “piffles.”
A “piffle” is a bill West said is easy to explain, not controversial and will pass effortlessly. They usually make “minor tweaks to existing language.”
Five of his piffles are scheduled for hearings before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday, West said.
West said that some committee members have asked how long it will take to get through the hearings. “We are going to be done in 20 minutes because they are piffles,” West said.