The House of Delegates on Saturday gave an initial nod to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed policy governing public-private partnerships on big projects like roads and public buildings, but some lawmakers heatedly objected to a new provision ensuring speedy legal proceedings for participants in such a partnership.
The change would allow legal appeals to be heard on an expedited track before the Court of Special Appeals, the state's intermediate appellate court. It was not part of the initial proposal by the O'Malley administration, but was added by a House panel.
Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, argued that the provision could confer special legal benefits on a "special group of fat cats.''
"In my opinion, what we are about to do is to become legislators in a banana republic, where they routinely interfere with the judicial process on behalf of special friends and special interests, and we are not covering ourselves in honor by doing this,'' Simmons said.
But supporters of the change say time is money, and companies that want to take part in large partnerships with the state to build expensive infrastructure should have speedy legal review of matters of law. Public-private partnerships are known as P3s. Supporters also underscored that the appeals would involve the rule of law, not disputed facts.
"Maybe they are special projects,'' said Delegate Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's. "That's why we have a category for P3. It's a way to get things done that builds upon the success of the private sector.''
An amendment offered by Simmons that would have taken the expedited process out of the bill was rejected by a 100-25 vote.
The P3 projects would apply to infrastructure initiatives such as roads, transit, ports, hospitals, courthouses and education.
Maryland departments overseeing capital projects have found that additional P3s in the state could contribute between 6 and 10 percent of Maryland's $3.1 billion annual capital budget while creating as many as 4,000 jobs, according to the O'Malley administration.
The legislation would better define what a public-private partnership is. It also would create a process for the state to receive and review unsolicited project proposals from the private sector and create a framework for an improved review and coordination process.
The House of Delegates gave the bill preliminary approval. Next it will come up for debate and a vote by the chamber.