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State delegates still at work during 'vacation'

July 27, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

They call it the interim, the nine-month break the Maryland General Assembly takes every year from its job of making laws.

But just because the Legislature is on vacation doesn't mean the work of local lawmakers stops.

State delegates and senators are in demand in their district offices and at community events.

Constituents call year-round, asking lawmakers to help them solve problems or navigate the red tape of a state agency.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he easily puts in 30 to 40 hours a week performing legislative duties, which is about the same amount of time he spends at his job as executive director of Washington County Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"Basically, I look at it as two full-time jobs," he said.

Since it's his first year on the job, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, said he goes to every meeting or event available to get up to speed on issues.

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Recently, he visited the town of Little Orleans just across the border from Washington County to see a local flooding problem first-hand.

Myers owns a construction company, but he's set it up so his employees run the day-to-day business. He still reports there at 5:30 every morning to check in with his foremen before the workers go out to job sites.

At least three days a week, there are meetings or events to attend, he said.

Demands on lawmakers during the interim are increasing, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Lawmakers study complex policy questions throughout the year.

Shank is on the Judiciary Committee, which is examining the state's juvenile justice system problems.

The Ways and Means Committee that McKee and Myers serve on is looking into the controversial issue of slot machine gambling, traveling the state this fall to gather public opinion.

Because of the demanding schedule, it can be difficult for lawmakers to find full-time work. Some employers aren't willing to let an employee take off from January through April when the legislature is in session.

Some jobs can raise conflict-of-interest questions.

Shank said he turned down a job teaching at Hagerstown Community College because of ethical considerations. College professors are expected to seek the state's permission to join a union, a proposal that has failed two times already.

Shank, who will take over as chairman of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly this fall, said he didn't want to put himself in the awkward position of not being able to vote on the proposal because of his employment status.

Until recently, Shank worked as an insurance salesman for the Meadows Agency near Boonsboro. He taught a political science course this summer at Frederick Community College. Now he's looking for a new part-time career.

Shank said he's up-front with potential employers that his first priority will always be his delegate's job. But he doesn't want that to be his only employment because he thinks his private-sector experience allows him to be a better lawmaker.

"I think it's important we be citizen legislators, to have something outside the General Assembly," he said.

Since he was elected in 1998, Sen. Alex X. Mooney has taken different part-time jobs every year during the interim. One year, he did some consulting work for Phoenix Color in Hagerstown. Another year, he had a three-month stint studying the worldwide problem of forced prostitution of women.

Last year, he did not work at all, choosing to campaign full-time.

In early June, Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, was selected by the nonprofit American Council of Young Political Leaders to attend a two-week political conference in India. He has a part-time job giving seminars on the Constitution, and he's employed by the law firm of Peroutka & Peroutka in Pasadena, Md.

But right now, 80 percent of his time is devoted to taking care of his 2-week-old son, Lucas Alexander Mooney.

The interim is also the time when many focus on fund-raising, which is barred when the Legislature is in session.

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