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Girl Scouts cast mock votes on Annapolis trip

February 19, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Two "votes" taken in the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday went against raising the driving age to 18 and in favor of raising the tobacco tax by $1 a pack.

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Keep in mind the votes were cast by middle school-age Girl Scouts.

The scouts, including 36 from Washington County, made their annual trip to the state capital in Annapolis to learn about the process of government.

The girls got to sit on the floor of the House of Delegates, in the seats where their representatives sit.

They debated bills and took votes that were flashed on the electronic tote board in the legislative chamber.

The General Assembly isn't considering raising the driving age this year, but the Girl Scouts did vote on two bills that are actually under debate.

They approved a $1-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax by a vote of 75 to 29.

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They defeated a ban on driving while holding a cell phone. That vote was a close 57 to 55.

During the debate, one of the Girl Scouts said cell phone calls can be unneeded distractions, particularly if someone in the car was having a heart attack.

But Jennilynn Hughes of Hagerstown didn't agree.

"First of all, that's really dumb. If your grandpa's having a heart attack I'm not going to pull over to answer the phone," said Hughes, 12.

Her friend from Troop 243, Amber O'Kane, also argued against a ban on cell phone use.

"I don't see a big distraction in car phones. There's nothing wrong with them and people do use them in emergencies," said O'Kane, 12.

Hughes was surprised that she and the other girls were allowed to use the microphone and voting buttons that the delegates use.

"I thought it was really fun. It was interesting to see how they voted and stuff," she said.

After they voted, the Girl Scouts asked questions about the legislative process.

Dee Orr, House journal clerk, explained that most of the 1,100 bills that have been introduced this session will be debated in committees.

If the committee approves, the bill will go to the floor for a vote. If a majority of delegates favor the bill, it will go to the Senate, where the process will start again.

The governor has the power to veto any bills passed by both houses.

"Is this the place where they get real loud and start screaming at each other?" asked Latricia Jones, 13, of Fort Washington, Md.

"Very seldom," Orr answered.

O'Kane asked why there was a telephone at each delegate's desk.

Orr said they're there so that delegates can get answers quickly to any questions that arise about their bills.

Orr was also asked how long it takes to pass a bill.

That varies. Some bills take the entire 90-day session.

On the other hand, "I've seen bills that pass the House and the Senate in a day," she said.

There was a larger contingent of Washington County Girl Scouts than in past years, said Carol Diehl, director of program services for the Shawnee Council.

The local Scouts came from Troops 225, 243, 870, 869, 232, 271 and 52, she said.

"It's a great program. I'm really pleased they get this opportunity," she said.

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