Letters to the Editor - Oct. 17

October 17, 2011

Beware of upcoming special session

To the editor:

The Maryland General Assembly meets in special session this week, and Washington County has reason to be concerned. We have friends in Annapolis, to be sure, but not as many as we would like. And no matter how hard our own delegation works, forces downstate can sometimes make decisions with little regard for their impact on this side of South Mountain.  

In his executive order calling for the special session, Gov. O'Malley followed tradition and outlined the reason: The General Assembly must approve a new congressional map before an early January deadline. Once in session, though, the legislature is not bound by the governor's rationale; it can take up any issue it pleases. We have as much reason for alarm from what the order did not say as from what it did.

The nominal reason for the special session is the decennial redrawing of the state's congressional boundaries. The process is politically driven, and like the ink blots they resemble, the newly drawn districts mean different things to different people. Hyperpartisan or well balanced, the map is unlikely to change for having gone through the legislative process. More dangerous than the stated reason for the General Assembly to meet is the threat of what else it might do.

The last special session — in 2007 — surprised everyone in Washington County with legislation to tax computer services and to surrender our gaming revenue. Both proposals failed, but not without a fight. Few issues, it turns out, require the urgency of a special session.

Beyond the specific legislation, though, special sessions invite procedural mischief. They short-circuit the legislative process and do not serve the people well. Ideas are not fully aired and public input is replaced by limited debate. The result can be ill-considered public policy that creates more problems than it solves.  

We learned in 2007 that our best hope is for a special session that remains narrowly focused, and early indications for this one are good. Annapolis insiders have been speculating for months about what surprises might be in store. The state is struggling to replenish transportation revenue, but even the most ardent supporters of an increase (read “gas tax”) do not expect action until January's regular General Assembly session. The legislature could also focus on last session, taking up proposed veto overrides, but that, too, seems unlikely. The governor's recent focus on jobs has fueled speculation that he might push for legislation in the special session, but his executive order makes no mention of a “jobs bill” in its rationale.

Over the next week or so, as the headlines focus on the congressional map, we need to continue to scan the legislative horizon for issues that could affect Washington County. All indications suggest that we have nothing to worry about — that if anyone plans an attack, it will be a surprise. But then again, we have been surprised before.

Brien Poffenberger, president
Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce   

The sabbath is for all, not just Jews

To the editor:

I would like to make a correction to a letter published Oct. 5. The statement that “nobody today is expected to keep the fourth commandment. The Sabbath was given to the children of Israel and to them only” is not exactly correct.

The 10 Commandments were not the first mention of the sabbath in the Bible. The sabbath originated at the end of creation week when God set it aside as a memorial of His creative powers and His desire to spend a day each week with us. He blessed and set it aside (sanctified) for that purpose (Gen. 2:1-3). His reiteration of it and the other nine precepts to the newly rescued Jews were meant to remind them of God’s way, which their long stint in slavery in a pagan land (400 years) had effectively erased from their memories.

So, yes, it was made for all men and women for all time, not just the Jews. Our loving creator and redeemer God still desires to spend that day with us each week.

Dixie Birmingham

Roundabouts, or rotaries, can work quite well

To the editor:

I’m originally from Massachusetts and have a different view of roundabouts (called “rotaries” in Massachusetts) than some of those expressed recently in the newspaper.

The problem locally seems to be driving etiquette: “I’m gonna get there first.” If people would relax a little and act with Christian forgiveness, the value of a roundabout — calming effect as well as enabling traffic merging — might be easier to understand.

Consider the logistics of roundabouts. When approaching an intersection, for safety, you consider vehicles in at least three directions. Whereas, at a roundabout, you need only consider one direction. Roundabout rules dictate that vehicles within the roundabout have the “right-of-way;” therefore, when approaching, you worry only about the vehicles to your left, and never stop within the roundabout. (Unlike the configuration near City Park, where ‘Yield’ signs cause vehicles to stop dangerously within the roundabout.)

It’s been said that drivers (students in a hurry or commuters in a grump) could cause a roundabout disaster at rush hour. In my Massachusetts experience, quite the opposite is true; large volumes quite safely navigate two, three and more roads intersecting at a rotary. A retired planner speaking at a Citizens for the Protection of Washington County meeting, said that roundabouts are safer (scrapes instead of T-bone crashes) than signalized intersections.

There are some local roundabouts that seem to work fairly well, like the intersection of Mt. Aetna Road and Md. 66; although an increase in the radius of that circle could greatly enhance its workability.

Bob Hatch

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