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Lawmakers busy at the end of session

April 06, 1997

ANNAPOLIS - The final days of the Maryland General Assembly's annual 90-day session typically brings about a flurry of activity in the offices, committee rooms and hallways of state government.

This year is no different, as lawmakers have been scurrying to bring about closure on a number of key issues, including the state budget, a welfare reform package and a plan to curb suburban sprawl, in time for tonight's midnight deadline.

"This is the whole ball game," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, walking between a committee meeting to a House of Delegates session one afternoon last week. "Everything else is just a warmup exercise."

Getting such a heavy load of bills passed - or killed in many cases - requires a hectic pace of committee hearings, meetings and floor sessions that start early in the morning and can last late into the evening. It's a combination that many grumble about but can find few alternatives to offer.

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"I don't know if there's a better way of doing it or not," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Local issues still to be decided today include the fate of legislation establishing a public-private agency that will take charge of Fort Ritchie after the base closes next year and several bond bills that would pay for local projects.

Pork out in full force

The legislative pork was being rolled out in full force last week when lawmakers were considering millions of dollars in spending for everything from work on Hancock's community center to improvements to an equestrian center in Prince George's County.

"Pork-fest '97" was what Del. Michael W. Burns, R-Anne Arundel, called the spectacle.

Some lawmakers complained the process of awarding pork, which is paid for through the sale of state bonds, is still highly politicized. They said secretive deals are cut with bond funding often awarded in exchange for votes on other issues.

"So far the bond bill process has been in the closet and it's still in the closet," said Del. Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard.

But Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, who chairs the House of Delegates capital budget subcommittee, disagreed with Kittleman's remarks.

"I don't know what closet we are talking about," he said.

Topaz bill still alive

The bid to make the golden topaz the official state gem stone is still alive, much to the amazement of supporters and opponents alike.

The golden topaz was rejected in committee several times, only to find its way to the House of Delegates floor last Tuesday, where it failed by a 60-60 vote. Then later in the week it was brought back to life when it was added to legislation still under consideration in the House that would make milk the official state drink.

Someone who finds no humor in the topaz's many lives is Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery. He argued on the House floor that the ability to keep bringing a "dead" bill back to life opens the door for much more serious legislation to also get repeated consideration in the legislature.

- By Guy Fletcher

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