From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
90 Days with the Maryland General Assembly
by M.L. Faunce
Between the starting gun on January 12 and the finish line on April 12, scores of elected officials new and seasoned, lobbyists by the legions and everyday Marylanders came to Mecca in Annapolis for the annual legislative session. Skeptics may say, 'they came, they wined and they dined.' But many who watched closely saw their elected state representatives not just meet and greet, but listen and learn, weigh in and vote on issues great and small or, as my Dad used to say, "from the sublime to the ridiculous."
In Annapolis, to be seen and heard during session, arrive at the State House on a Monday night. That's lobby night in the small world, this small town where everybody knows your name. Out on Lawyer's Mall you'll often find an atmosphere as much all-American as all-business.
Part high school football game, part New Year's Eve gala, friends and foes of special interest legislation bustle between the State House and office building sidelines. Team spirit runs high in the defense of children and the homeless or for and against taxes - any taxes. Faces are matched with names and names with faces in the dance and dialogue of give and take that are the legislative process. Under the dome of the old State House (the nation's oldest), red brick streets ring with high-tech cell phones answering the call of old-fashioned horse trading.
By day, advocates of all stripes storm House and Senate buildings. Walking the walk and talking the talk, they jam committee rooms for their moment in the sun. In the Free State, all are welcome. All have a voice - so long as they sign up an hour before hearings. The chair raps the gavel and the testimony changes as quickly as partners at a square dance. And square off they do, from well-heeled lawyers to volunteer grassroots advocates, all for the good of their cause.
In the House, the engine that could struggled up a summit of 1,218 bills, introduced in a furious frenzy. Some issues spoke louder than others. A speaker who spoke for One Maryland urged all of his flock to follow. To him, it wasn't all for one if some were left without a piece of the pie. And the governor's straight talk about a gay brother sought to end discrimination against some other Marylanders.
By session's end, new ethics ruled the day but left some hungry for a bigger bite. Those thirsty for a stronger drunk-driving law came up dry. Labor and some state workers got less than they bargained for, while legislators found room to toast and host Marriott. Pro-choice took on a new twist for consumers in favor of utility deregulation. And Sunday hunters will have to observe the Sabbath in silence.
On issues as heavy as leaden skies promising drenching spring rains, bans against assisted suicide and certain abortion procedures left lawmakers with queasy stomachs. A budget tied to tobacco taxes teetered and teased through the turmoil, then rose from the ashes at session's end.
Still, good news abounds: For the needy poor, a fund named Joseph and for students, a scholarship called Hope. A cut in class size, the kindest cut of all, proving what some had said all along, Kids Count. As well, Maryland's tradition of thoroughbred horse racing won a new lease (purse?) on life.
January through April. Winter till spring. Snow fall to blossom fall. Ninety fast-track legislative days. As long as a traffic tie-up on Rowe Boulevard, as precarious as a pedestrian crossing College Avenue, as short as a controversial nude painting hung on a House Building wall.
Maryland's General Assembly: They came, they met, they made laws. Whew!
For information on bills passed in this session, check the General Assembly web site: http://mlis.state.md.us.
NBT contributing editor Faunce worked the session as staff aide to freshman Del. Paul Carlson of Montgomery County.
| Issue 15 |
Volume VII Number 15
April 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times
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