The Maryland Senate gave early support to a bill Tuesday that Republican lawmakers have labeled a partisan ploy to remove one of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's cabinet secretaries who has fallen out of favor with Democratic legislators.

The bill, sponsored by the six highest-ranking senate Democrats, would require a governor elected to a second consecutive term to resubmit principal cabinet secretaries to the senate for confirmation. If passed, it would apply to Ehrlich's cabinet if he is re-elected in November.

"If a cabinet secretary is not responsive to the needs of the citizens of Maryland, there needs to be a check and balance," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Southern Maryland, after the session. Approving the governor's appointments "is a very important function of the Senate."

For opponents of the bill, the timing of its introduction in this election year, when the state's first Republican governor in a generation will run for reelection, is suspect.

"It's partisanship rearing its ugly head," said Senate Republican minority leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus. "It says to me that some people are worried that this governor will be reelected."

Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, called the move "another in a long series of unilateral power grabs" by the Democrat-controlled legislature.

"It shows a total contempt for the constitution and the powers of the executive office," he said. "Next thing you know, they'll make the office of governor contingent on Senate confirmation."

Opponents of the bill argued that it is aimed at ousting Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan from Ehrlich's cabinet. Flanagan has recently fallen out of favor with Democratic lawmakers for not providing $28.5 million in highway grants to municipalities and counties around the state.

"This is the secretary of transportation bill, that's what this is," Stoltzfus said.

Miller repeated his assertions that the bill was not targeted at Flanagan specifically, but said that the "hard-nosed, opinionated Irishman" has repeatedly been at odds with the local and state officials.

"He plays ball for himself and nobody else," Miller said. "Pride leads to the downfall of many people and he's a very prideful man."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh drew cheers from fellow Democrats when he said that the bill should be expanded to include members of the Public Services Commission, an agency that has come under fire as the state braces for electric bill hikes.

A committee version of the bill was approved on a 27-20 vote, with six Democrats joining the chamber's 14 Republicans in voting against it. But more debate will be heard on the floor Wednesday when lawmakers take up an amendment proposed by Stoltzfus that would require second-term governors to only resubmit cabinet secretaries who have served for less than one year.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.