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The Mystery of the Locked Door

The fate of the General Assembly's efforts to curb air pollution from coal-fired power plants remains in limbo today, tied up in a dispute about timing and locked doors.

Robert A. Zarnoch, assistant attorney general for the legislature, has advised the Senate that its last-minute attempts to deliver bills to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Jr. last week were not too late - even though the legislation was slipped under a locked door.

On Friday, the General Assembly rushed to pass a long list of controversial bills before the end of the day so that, even if the bills are vetoed, lawmakers have time to try to override the governor's action before they adjourn next Monday.

When two Senate legislative aides reached the office of the governor's chief legislative officer Kenneth Masters at 4:50 p.m., the door was locked, according to Zarnoch's letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller,Jr. (D-Calvert).

According to the account, Mary Monahan, the chief clerk for the House, also overheard Masters tell a staff person leaving the office at 4:30 p.m. to close and lock the door.

While the General Assembly can not dictate the office hours of the governor's staff, Zarnoch says that it is not unreasonable to assume that during the last 11 days of the legislative session Ehrlich's legislative office would be open on a weekday afternoon or on a Saturday.

"Unreasonable office hours may not be set to frustrate presentment," he writes.

Citing an Alabama Supreme Court from 1982, Zarnoch concludes that Ehrlich must act on the bills by Friday.

But Kenneth Masters, the governor's aide responsible for taking receipt of the bills from the legislature, said sliding the bills under the door doesn't cut it and he disputed the timing.

"If they didn't come up before 5 p.m., and they weren't presented to me, then we don't consider them to have been presented," Masters said.

He also took issue with the notion that he instructed a staffer to lock the door at 4:30.

"I was the last person out," Masters said. "And I left at 5, or thereabouts."

The sponsor of one of the late arrivals, Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George's), sent his own letter to the governor today, calling the locked door "simply silly."

"The image of your staff members cowering behind a locked door and refusing to accept documents from the legislature simply doesn't square with how you personally do business," Pinsky writes.

He urges the governor to sign his bill to cut power plant emissions and if not, to veto it by Friday--so that the General Assembly can consider an override.

- Ann E. Marimow and Matthew Mosk

By Ann Marimow  |  April 3, 2006; 7:06 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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