Majority Rules: House Panel Rewrites GOP Lawmaker’s Bill on Electric Vehicles

Clean Energy
Unsplash.com photo by Waldemar Brandt.

A House committee has rewritten a bill from a Republican lawmaker that was designed to require state and local elected officials who charge their own personal electric vehicles at state government charging stations to reimburse the government for the electricity they use.

On Wednesday, the sponsor of the bill, Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert), rose on the House floor to try to get his bill back. He did not succeed.

Fisher’s bill as originally drafted would have prevented elected officials at the state and local level from using the government’s electric charging stations without paying for it. But when the legislation came before the House Environment and Transportation Committee earlier this month, Democrats on the panel rewrote it to allow state employees and local elected officials free access to the charging stations for their personal vehicles. Under the rewrite, only state lawmakers would have to reimburse the government for using the state-installed charging stations.

In an interview, Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said he and other lawmakers wanted to do what they could to boost the use of electric vehicles in the state. The committee voted 17-5 to approve the changes.

“We changed the bill to make it say what we wanted it to say,” Barve said. “As a matter of policy, we should be encouraging people to drive electric.”

Asked whether there was an element of personal animus involved in their decision to rewrite Fisher’s bill, because the Calvert Republican often picks public fights with his Democratic colleagues, Barve said the decision was “mostly a policy thing.”

But there was vigorous debate on the House floor Wednesday over the amended bill. Fisher rose first to raise objections, questioning the floor leader for the legislation, Del. Sara N. Love (D-Montgomery), about what the bill now does and why they changes were made.

“The bill came in as a simple bill,” he said. “You’re telling me that 77,000 state employees should be allowed to use state charging stations?”

Love explained that committee members were reluctant to give themselves “perks,” but did want to encourage other public officials to buy electric vehicles and take advantage of the 88 charging stations that the Maryland Department of General Services has set up throughout the state. Love also said the percentage of Maryland drivers who owns electric vehicles is currently so low that the bill as written would only apply to a few hundred motorists.

Fisher proposed an amendment that sought to bring the bill back to its original posture.

“It’s a good government bill — it should be passed out the way it was,” he said.

Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) pointed out that the state does not reimburse government employees when they purchase gasoline for their personal vehicle. He accused Democrats of employing “fuzzy math” when arguing in favor of the rewritten bill, and said Fisher’s amendment aims “to treat everybody fair.”

Del. John F. “Johnny” Mautz IV (R-Middle Shore) asked Love why, if taxpayers are subsidizing the state government charging stations, “they can’t also enjoy the opportunity” to use them?

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” Love replied.

“It’s kind of a trick question,” Mautz conceded.

Barve, on the House floor, said the committee’s decision to rewrite the bill is consistent with longstanding state priorities.

“This is a policy that we’ve had as a body and as a state for a very long time,” he said.

But Fisher characterized his bill, as rewritten by the Democrats, as providing “even more opportunities for free fuel for the woke.” He complained about being “put in this position unnecessarily,” and said “it makes no sense, it’s wrong, it’s unprincipled.”

This brought an angry rebuke from House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who referenced a session-full of Fisher’s rhetorical bomb-throwing.

 “‘Woke.’ ‘Virtuous.’ There’s a valid policy disagreement. I apologize to the body that you’ve been exposed to these diatribes and insults all session,” he said.

Fisher’s amendment failed on a vote of 47-80. The bill as amended received preliminary approval on a voice vote and will be up for final passage in the next day or two. Lawmakers may be treated to the spectacle of watching one of their colleagues vote against the bill he sponsored.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.