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Opponents of gem bill find golden topaz tough to polish off

April 02, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - You can't mine the golden topaz in Maryland. For that matter, you can't mine any gem stone in the state.

But the golden topaz has friends in the General Assembly - so many friends that legislation to name it the official state gem stone was making a determined journey through the legislature until the House of Delegates killed the measure on Tuesday.

"We still have no state gem," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, jokingly declared after the 60-60 vote.

The tally came after a brief and somewhat humorous debate in which a critic of the bill described how strange it is for the state to give an "official state" designation to something that is not even naturally found in the state.

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"Your children's children's children will learn about the significance of the golden topaz, which I suggest to you in Maryland is zero," said Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery.

Even supporters conceded the golden topaz is found mostly in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. But they said the stone was selected for consideration as the state gem because its brilliant yellow color is consistent with other state symbols, such as the black-eyed Susan, which is the state flower, and the state flag.

"It's kind of a fun bill, or at least it's lighter than some of the other things we do," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, a golden topaz supporter.

And, she pointed out, Maryland wouldn't be the first state to recognize jewelry. Eighteen states have official gems, from Arkansas' diamond to Montana's sapphire.

"Why shouldn't we have a gem when other states do?" Snodgrass asked.

For a lighthearted piece of legislation, the topaz measure had unusual resiliency. Last week, it appeared headed for the legislative scrap heap when the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee gave it an unfavorable report - an action that typically dooms a bill because of the legislature's strong committee format.

But in the closing days of a legislative session almost anything can happen. This time that anything happened to be "new evidence" brought forward about the bill, said Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore city, who chairs the committee.

Curran was guarded in divulging what exactly that evidence was. But he did admit that one of the arguments for the bill, which originated in the Senate, was to assure House members that their legislation pending in the Senate wouldn't fall victim to some sort of political retribution.

"That has something to do with it," said Snodgrass, a member of the committee.

The golden topaz was voted out of committee and onto the House floor twice on Monday, setting the stage for Tuesday's showdown vote. Dembrow said he has never seen the House consider a bill so many times.

"This is a good bill to take up on April Fool's Day," he said.

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