Alexander Pyles//Daily Record Business Writer//April 7, 2012
//Daily Record Business Writer
//April 7, 2012
ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate gave preliminary approval to a public-private partnerships bill Saturday afternoon that does not include two controversial amendments made to an identical House of Delegates bill.
SB 358 could receive final approval when the Senate reconvenes later Saturday.
The House version, HB 576, was amended in a House committee to allow for an expedited judicial appeal process in public-private partnership court cases.
The House panel also made the procedural change retroactive, which would mean the state could use the expedited process to appeal two unfavorable rulings in the ongoing lawsuit over the State Center development in Baltimore.
But a Senate committee voted to disregard the House amendments and move its own bill.
Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, previously a sponsor of the Senate bill, had his name removed as a sponsor and voted against it in the Budget and Taxation Committee. Manno wanted the panel to move a further-amended House bill with specific language that barred the legislation from applying to any current case, rather than a Senate version.
“That’s not what I signed up for,” Manno said of the special rules created for public-private partnership litigation.
If the bill is given final approval when the Senate reconvenes Saturday evening, that would probably lead to a conference committee between members of each chamber to try to resolve the differences.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, said if that happens, the two chambers would reach a compromise on Monday, the session’s last day. McIntosh chairs the Environmental Matters Committee, which adopted the controversial amendments in the House.
“We’ll go to conference,” McIntosh said. “We don’t want to lose the bill.”
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has headed the administration’s push for the legislation. Brown’s policy director, Ben Stutz, said this week that the administration supported the House amendments on judicial review and retroactivity, but conceded that the bill was acceptable without those changes.
The Maryland State Bar Association protested the legislation’s retroactivity, questioning the constitutionality of such a measure and calling it bad practice.
Manno agreed with the bar association but also said it was unfair to create a special appeals process for parties in public-private partnership cases.
The legislation’s retroactive amendment was made so the state could appeal two Baltimore City Circuit Court rulings that went against the state in a lawsuit over the contract award for the proposed State Center development.
The state had requested the lawsuit against it be dismissed, and attempted to file a countersuit. Both motions were denied by Judge Althea M. Handy.
Alan M. Rifkin represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which claims the state did not follow proper procurement procedure in awarding the State Center development contract.
Rifkin was pleased to hear the Senate might move ahead without the House amendments and said Saturday, “That’s the way it should be.”
“When laws are crafted to retroactively interfere with pending litigation, it offends all notions of judicial integrity,” Rifkin said. “The mere existence of the retroactive amendments speaks volumes as to the defects in the state’s position in the litigation.”C