In my Sunday column
on a local delegate's term limits bill, I talked about the General
Assembly's undemocratic committee system, which concentrates power in a
Now comes news from The Baltimore Sun that reinforces the point.
years, lawmakers have been trying to push through a bill to allow
direct shipping of wine into Maryland. The bill has plenty of
safeguards to ensure underage people could not get booze, and a
majority of state legislators are behind it.
But as The Sun repored, Sen. Joan Carter Conway doesn't want the bill to pass, so it's probably not happening.
Why? Because she's the chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
although six of the nine senators on that committee are co-sponsors,
Conway can unilaterally kill the bill by failing to bring it up for a
There are 47 senators and 141 delegates, but only a handful
of those 188 have any real power: the Senate president, the House
speaker and the committee chairmen they appoint.
who's been following national politics lately knows that a single U.S.
senator can hold health care legislation hostage to his own whim,
thanks to the filibuster rule, or block the nomination of dozens of
qualified nominees until his state gets a pet project. In other
contexts, they call that blackmail.
As Paul Krugman pointed out in his New York Times column,
it's reminiscent of the old Polish legislature's unanimity policy,
under which any member could nullify legislation by shouting "I do not
Sound silly? We're not too far from that in 21st-century America.
absurd that a bill like the wine-shipping one should be held hostage to
a single senator's whim. If Conway has problems with the legislation,
she can propose an amendment. If she still doesn't like it, she can of
course vote no.
But to not let it come to a vote?
Well, on Election Day, unlike in the General Assembly, it's still one man (or woman), one vote.
this fall in the voting booth, citizens should stand up to these
practice by telling lawmakers who engage in this foolishness, "I do not