Annapolis notes

March 23, 1998

Annapolis notes

ANNAPOLIS - Props are often used as political playing cards in the Maryland General Assembly, where lawmakers and others find themselves appearing like carnival pitchmen.

Pushing legislation to help fire companies? Then park a big red engine in front of the State House. Trying to get a bill passed that would designate an official state dinosaur? Then hand out toy plastic dinosaurs.

So it was only a mild surprise when Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, parked a 900-pound Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the House Commerce and Government Matters hearing room last Tuesday.


Owings, whose ability for showmanship is well known in the legislature, was trying to make a case for his legislation to exempt adults from the state's motorcycle helmet law.

But that didn't go over well with Del. Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, who suggested a motorcycle filled with gasoline inside a state building was a violation of the fire code.

"I suggest we check it out and enforce it in the future in a timely way," Bobo told Owings.

Minutes later, the motorcycle was wheeled out of the room.

A better strategy was taken earlier this year when supporters of the drive to make milk the official state drink appeared before the same panel. No, they didn't bring a cow.

Instead, they handed out cookies ... and only then suggested how great a glass of milk would be with the snack.

The political saying of the week went to Del. Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, who walked onto the floor of the House of Delegates last Wednesday morning wearing a button that said, "Of course I support you position. I just can't vote with you."

It came as no surprise when sponsors of a bill designed to guarantee religious freedom in the state decided to yank the legislation.

That's because the bill restricted the circumstances under which government could curb religious practices. Municipal leaders in the state feared that could hurt their ability to enforce building codes and zoning laws on religious facilities. And corrections officials said the legislation could require them to pay millions each year to prepare special meals for prisoners of certain faiths.

What made the matter very interesting were the scores of lawmakers who originally signed on as co-sponsors of the bill months ago, long before any of the legislation's problems came to light.

In recent weeks many of those same lawmakers were quietly hoping the bill wouldn't make it to the House or Senate floors, where they would find themselves in the uncomfortable position of seemingly opposing religious freedom.

After all, the bill was supported strongly by Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and other leaders of various faiths.

The lawmakers got their break last Friday, when the sponsors took everyone off the hook and dropped the measure.

- Guy Fletcher

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