Md. House Debates Abortion, Er, Tattoos
The Maryland House of Delegates spent more than a half an hour this morning engaged in a procedural debate that was, essentially, about abortion--yet the delegates managed to do so without once mentioning the word.
At issue was a bill sponsored by Del. Sue Kullen (D-Calvert) that would require a parent or legal guardian's written consent before a minor can get a tattoo, body piercing or other branding.
The bill has already passed the House Judiciary Committee and today was up for second reading discussion and amendment on the floor of the House. That's when Republican Gail H. Bates (Howard) proposed an amendment: She suggested expanding the bill to require parental consent for all "medically invasive" procedures.
What medically invasive procedure might she be trying to get at? She never said it on the floor, but delegates understood what the amendment was all about.
What followed was a lengthy procedural debate about whether such an amendment violated two House rules, one that says that bills can only address a "single subject" of the law and another that says amendments cannot change the original purpose of the bill.
Republicans brandished a letter indicating that an assistant attorney general had ruled Bates' amendment would not violate the single subject rule. House Parliamentarian Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) agreed but ruled that the amendment would change the bill's purpose. On that basis, House Speaker Michael E. Busch ruled the amendment was out of order.
Republicans then challenged Busch's ruling, meaning he had to step down from the rostrum and let speaker pro tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) lead a debate on the issue. Ultimately the House backed its leader on a 103 to 35 vote. But not before debate got pretty heated.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil) insisted ruling the amendment out of order represented "nothing more than the tyranny of the majority." House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) said the ruling on the amendment represented an unwillingness to "at least debate the issue."
Democrats responded the bill before the House was about tattoos and body piercing. The House could have a full debate on the merits of requiring parental consent for other procedures--if a delegate proposed a bill on the topic. "This bill was very specific--it deals with tattoing," said Dumais.
At the end of the day, Shank asked to put off the bill's second reading until tomorrow while he worked to craft an amendment that might pass House muster. Upshot? Delegates may get to have the whole debate over again tomorrow.
February 19, 2009; 2:10 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly , Rosalind Helderman
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