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Annapolis Notes

February 03, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Bon voyage? Not so much



On Wednesday, Jan. 24, in what he described as his "maiden voyage" as Washington County delegation chairman, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, experienced choppy waters.

After he was elected chairman of the eight-member delegation the previous week, Myers said his meetings will start on time, bucking an Annapolis trend.

As the clock hit 8:30 a.m., the meeting's starting time, Myers was in his seat, waiting and looking toward the door. Two reporters were there. Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, had just come in.

Other delegation members trickled in over the next several minutes.

Compounding the delay, Washington County Commissioners and other county officials, who were scheduled to tell the delegation their legislative priorities, got caught in traffic and walked in at about 8:45 a.m.

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Myers had to figure out how to work the aging recording system that beeped loudly every so often during the meeting. "This is Pete Callas' old machine," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, explained, referring to the county's delegation chairman in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Before long, delegation members began leaving for other commitments - one, then another, then another - until it was just Myers and Shank.

"I have good news for you," Myers told county officials, who were in the middle of their presentation. "I'm staying."

"Me, too," Shank added.




Recalling the power play



Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, made it clear last week that he opposes a new proposal to double the state's cigarette tax, from $1 to $2. Washington County smokers will head to neighboring states to get their fix, hurting local retailers' business, he figures.

"I'm not going to sit down here in Annapolis and vote to cost my constituents jobs," Munson said.

Fans of local politics might remember the 2002 session, when Munson, who regularly opposes cigarette tax increases, voted the other way.

Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of Munson's Budget and Taxation Committee at the time, told him she'd withdraw her support for two key Washington County funding requests if he didn't vote for the cigarette tax increase.

For the sake of the local initiatives - a university campus and an airplane-service subsidy - Munson gave in, but wasn't happy about it. "I'm still mad that I was hijacked," he said the following day.




Health before business?



Health Care for All!, which is pushing a cigarette tax increase this year, made a point of showing how hundreds of groups across the state support the cause, including health organizations, churches, labor unions and government bodies.

The coalition believes its initiative will save lives and keep people alive longer, through expanded health care and because higher cigarette taxes might force people to quit smoking.

Which makes for one somewhat surprising entry among the Washington County supporters: Rest Haven Cemetery.




The next Yellow Pages



During a recent hearing on Maryland's election system, Michael I. Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, told the House Ways and Means Committee that electronic voting machines are safer and more accurate than opponents portray them.

During the discussion, Del. Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, questioned Shamos' assertion about the presence and effectiveness of electronic backup records.

In the process, Barve, the House majority leader, might have showed how cellularly connected he is.

Barve wondered how he'd retrieve the numbers programmed into his mobile phone if they were wiped out - all 8,400 of them.

Could he have been exaggerating?

For some Washington County context, that's roughly the entire population of Boonsboro, Smithsburg, Williamsport and Clear Spring, give or take a neighborhood.




Kinder, gentler lawmakers



House and Senate sessions started later last week so legislators could get sensitivity training and learn what constitutes sexual harassment.

The sessions were said to be optional for senators, but mandatory for delegates, prompting one skeptical delegate to wonder what the repercussion might be. What can they do, he wondered, take away my General Assembly seat?

Delegates found out the penalty later that day on the House floor.

Del. Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, the House majority leader, announced that those who missed the mandatory training would have to take it on their own time - and at their own cost, drawing at least one incredulous look.

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