By Justin Snow
With the final day left of this year’s legislative session, the Senate gave preliminary approval to its own version of a public-private partnership bill on Saturday that scraps two contentious amendments adopted by the House of Delegates and supported by the O’Malley administration.
The Senate version of the bill reverts to the original House bill, establishing an improved process for the state to review and coordinate proposals from outside developers on major infrastructure projects.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee opted to move forward with its own version of the bill rather than the version passed by the House. That chamber adopted two late amendments providing an expedited appeal process for lawsuits over public-private partnerships and made the process retroactive.
State Center lawsuit was target
Before the House approved the amended bill 80-53 late last month, several delegates slammed the amendments as targeting pending litigation against the State Center development in downtown Baltimore and “sowing the seeds of corruption.”
Building owners have been suing the state over the development since 2010, alleging the contracts were not competitively bid and that the additional commercial and residential floor space will increase downtown vacancy rates. They have alleged that the retroactive amendments were targeted solely at their case in an attempt to deny them their day in court.
Despite the loss of the two House amendments, the Senate version of the bill has not pleased everyone. Three senators voted against the bill in committee, including an original sponsor of the bill, Montgomery County Democrat Roger Manno.
In a committee hearing last week, Manno and several other senators had tough questions for representatives of the O’Malley administration about the constitutionality of the retroactive House amendments. Although the administration did not propose the amendments, they affirmed their support for them.
Manno amended the Senate bill to have his name removed as a sponsor after failing to convince the committee to keep certain House amendments that would provide increased worker protections.
Manno: Too much stink on bill
“This bill just has too much stink on it right now,” Manno said after the Senate adjourned on Saturday. “We’re using state dollars and we have a responsibility to manage those dollars and to impart in that process the values of the communities we represent.”
The Senate adopted the committee’s version of the bill with no debate on Saturday. Although Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, attempted to delay debate on the bill until later in the day so he could read the legislation and draft any necessary amendments, he was assured by his colleagues that he would not object to it.
“I think you’ll like this bill,” Senate President Mike Miller said to Kittleman before ordering the bill be printed for final debate.
The Senate is expected to cast a final vote on the bill Monday. The Senate version would still need to be approved by the House but could likely end up in a conference committee with members of both chambers negotiating their two versions of the legislation — all before the General Assembly adjourns at midnight.
Manno says he will not support the Senate bill unless amendments are adopted to strengthen the legislation. “I reserve the right to continue this dialogue on the floor,” said Manno.