Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maryland House Unanimously Passes Primary Bill, But Senate Version May Now Be at Odds [UPDATED]

The Maryland House yesterday unanimously passed a measure shifting the presidential primary from February to April and the primaries for state and local offices from September to June. HB 671 passed 139-0. The passage of this bill has always been something of a foregone conclusion considering both the Democratic and Republican leadership in the House sponsored the legislation on the request of Governor Martin O'Malley (D).

However, the ease with which this process may resolve itself may have met some resistance today in the Maryland Senate. The Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee passed by a 9-2 vote an amended version of SB 501 today. That bill differs from the original companion to the House bill (SB 820) in that the presidential primary would be moved from February to the first Tuesday in March, not April and the state and local primaries would be moved to the second Tuesday in July and not the third Tuesday in June. Part of that was rectified in the amendments offered and adopted by the committee, but now the bill headed to the state Senate floor does not match the House version.

The amendments added the leadership to the list of sponsors which originally included only Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee vice chair, Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th, Calvert, Charles & St. Mary's Counties) and altered the language concerning the timing of the primaries for state and local offices -- changing the proposed July date to the preferred June date. Dyson alluded to the consensus behind the June date in his comments in the committee hearing for both Senate bills last week. But he didn't say much about the presidential primary's timing. And that portion was left unamended in the version of SB 501 that passed while SB 820 was left in committee. The fact that the leadership was added to the list of sponsors is an interesting pseudo-seal of approval on a measure that will now go to the floor.

The result is that now the Senate version calls for a March primary while the House version -- a version that has passed the chamber already -- endorses an April presidential primary. A few things could happen here. First, SB 820 could emerge from committee and be passed as is and everything is fine. Second, as we saw in Missouri recently, the bill could be amended on the floor to include the April presidential primary date. The third option is that the newly amended SB 501 passes and the two chambers have to figure out how to reconcile the differences on the presidential primary date. Both of the changes bring Maryland into compliance with the national party rules, so that issue is not complicating the matter any.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has more including:
The Senate is expected to amend a similar bill to reflect the provisions of the House version Friday, according to an aide to the Senate president.
The article also says that the House bill passed on Monday. Yeah, it looks that way, and you would probably have to check daily like FHQ does to know this, but the bill passed the House yesterday. The House treated yesterday, March 23, as the March 21 legislative day (see also today's House agenda).

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