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The Mouse That Roared

A rare feat was achieved Thursday morning in the Maryland Senate: a bill previously moved forward by the chamber was killed on third reading. By one vote.

Senate Bill 21 would have repealed the Elevator Safety Review Board Fund and reallocate its fund balance and future fee revenues to the State Occupational Mechanical Licensing Boards’ Fund.

Submitted by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the bill aimed to further consolidate the operations of the two licensing boards, which already share resources including staff, supplies, equipment and office space.

At a hearing earlier this month, Victoria Wilkins, commissioner of occupational and professional licensing for DLLR, characterized the bill as a “housekeeping” measure that would pool the incoming revenues for the boards.

But Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) saw the issue a different way.

He zeroed in on the Department of Legislative Services analysis that noted the elevator board’s revenues are expected to decrease in the future as the result of inspection reforms passed last year. The bill also takes the current fees paid to the board out of state statute and would let the board set the fees by regulation in the future. The senator expressed concern that a possible future increase in fees could create a negative barrier to job entry and inspectors’ livelihoods.

“The issue here is that the elevator board is going to be facing a deficit. So instead of coming in to present a bill to say we have to fund government at an appropriate level, and instead of raising the fees, the department is requesting instead to take that responsibility out of the General Assembly’s hands and move it to this occupational board, which will have the ability to raise fees up to 12 percent per year,” he said.

Ferguson spoke for less than two minutes. With no other discussion in the chamber, a vote was called. Slowly, a mix of red and green votes populated the boards on the sides of the chamber.

And when the clerk took the call: “The bill goes down by one vote,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) announced.

“The mouse that roared!” Miller exclaimed as Ferguson’s move was met by a smattering of applause and laughter in the chamber.

Montgomery County Sen. Susan Lee, a Democrat, later changed her vote to join the majority, leading to the bill’s ultimate demise by two votes.

Later, during general announcements, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said the vote should serve as cautionary for some of the new members in the chamber: “To the freshmen, particularly those who have joined us from the House of Delegates, this vote earlier was your unofficial welcome to the Maryland Senate.”

Miller agreed from the rostrum.

“There’s no bill too big, too small to debate on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “Believe me.”

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The Mouse That Roared