House defuses fireworks over Frosh’s power to sue Trump

Del. Bob Flanagan makes case for his amendment restricting the powers of the attorney general. photo

By Len Lazarick

By following normal legislative procedure, the House of Delegates Tuesday defused the political fireworks that went off in the Maryland Senate five days earlier when Democrats rammed through a broad expansion of the powers of the Democratic attorney to sue the federal government.

A somewhat muted response by House Republicans also helped to reduce the heat by limiting their debate to a single amendment focusing on the constitutional authority legislators were handing over to Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh.

This was “a good response to a bad process,” said House Republican Leader Nic Kipke, who said he would argue against the proposal when it comes up for a final vote Wednesday.

The measure, SJ5, the Maryland Defense Act, and its House companion, HJ3, allows the attorney general to challenge any action by the federal government that harms the health and welfare of Maryland citizens.

Frosh told the House Rules Committee Friday that he wanted to challenge the Trump administration on immigration. He had asked Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for permission to pursue a lawsuit as other attorneys general had done, but he received no response.

The Maryland constitution allows the governor or legislature to authorize lawsuits by the attorney general, but his powers have been limited to certain topics under Maryland law, such as consumer rights. Over 40 states give their attorneys general much freer rein, and a number have sued the Trump administration.

Last week, in the space of 48 hours, the Senate heard testimony from Frosh and progressive supporters of the measure, but no opponents; voted it out of committee in hours, refused to give Republicans another day to offer floor amendments, and sent it to the House of Delegates Friday by a final 29-17 vote.

Nine of the 14 Republican senators angrily walked out of the chamber on Thursday in protest when Senate President Mike Miller and most Democrats refused to give them a day to examine the bill and prepare amendments.

Routine pace in the House

Kipke said the routine pace in the House showed there was no rush to pass the measure. Senate Republicans were more outraged at the lack of courtesy in giving them time to fight an attempt to take power away from the Republican governor and hand it to the Democratic attorney general.

In brief House debate Tuesday, Del. Bob Flanagan, R-Howard, said what the measure does is “give away our constitutional authority.”

Flanagan offered an amendment that required the attorney general to seek the permission to pursue lawsuits against the federal government from the Legislative Policy Committee, a joint House-Senate committee comprising mostly Democratic leaders and committee chairs.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, D-Balto. City, sponsor of the House resolution, said, “We’re merely adding to that authority” they had already given the AG in other areas.

“This resolution is perfectly in line with our constitution,” said Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery.

Del. Herb McMillan said the legislature’s directions to the attorney general should be “narrowly and specifically drawn.”

Otherwise the legislature would be as foolish as “a client who allows his lawyer to sue anyone, any time, for almost any reason, without consultation and direction.”

During the debate, there was no mention of President Donald Trump.

Flanagan’s amendment failed in a 50-88 party line vote.