Subdued Assembly Begins New Session

January 10, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Tears welled up in Joan Cadden's eyes as she raised her hand yesterday afternoon to be sworn into the House of Delegates.

Cadden, a former school board member entering her first four-year term, looked upto the gallery above the delegates' chambers where her daughter and five grandchildren sat. But, to avoid crying, she quickly looked away.

"My family was sitting in the balcony watching me," the Brooklyn Park Democrat recalled after the ceremony. "And I thought, 'Please God, let me do everything I have to do to make them proud.' "

The General Assembly opened its annual 90-session in Annapolis yesterday swearing in 188 lawmakers, including 35 new delegates and 10 senators. Anne Arundel County sent three new delegates to the State House -- Cadden, Annapolis Republican Aris T. Allen and Severn Democrat Victor Sulin.

A $423 million state budget deficit, worsening economy and events in the Persian Gulf had a sobering effect on the traditionally ebullient opening day festivities.

But yesterday was still a time for legislators -- particularly the new ones -- to settle in and showoff their state offices for families and friends.

"The mood was abit more somber than I expected," said Allen, a retired medical doctor and the oldest member of the General Assembly at 79. "A couple of young ladies that I came over with said, 'Dr. Allen, is it going to be like this everyday?' It was kind of drab."

However, Sulin said, "It's been better than I expected. I've been real low-key, but this is a fulfillment of something I wanted to do for a long time.

"It'simpressive sitting on the (House of Delegates) floor, knowing the responsibility I have," said Sulin, who first tried unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 1982. "I can remember when I used to sit up in thegallery and look down. I'm glad I'm here."

Legislators today begin meeting in their committees -- where the bulk of the General Assembly's work is done. But little can be done until the end of the month when they hear Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposals to cope with this year's budget deficit as well as the shortfall projected for next year.

Yesterday, some wrung their hands as they anticipated either massive layoffs of state employees or new taxes -- a possibility the voters in November clearly made known they didn't want, lawmakers said.

Only a day earlier, Schaefer ordered all state employees to start working 40 hours a week, instead of 35.5 hours. The Schaefer administration said that lengthening the work week will increase productivity by 12.7 percent, or the equivalent of adding 5,000 positions at an annual cost of $183 million, without cost to taxpayers.

"I started out at 8 this morning with a call from a constituent upset thatshe'd have to work 40 hours a week," said Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena. "I said, 'Would you rather have 1,800 people laid off?' "

Huff then added, "You try to tell people the truth sometimes and theyjust step on you."

Special-interest lobbyists -- representing everyone from business to teachers to firefighters -- welcomed the legislators back yesterday as well. But they, too, have toned down their acts.

Abortion-rights activists went door to door through the Houseand Senate office buildings, leaving bound copies of Roe vs. Wade --the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions throughout the country -- for lawmakers to read. Abortion-rights advocates will ask the legislature "for a clean codification of Roe vs. Wade," said Pat Riviere, a lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women.

"Last year, they gave out boxing gloves," saidDelegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton. "This year, they are getting serious. That's the tone of everything."

Keeping his promise to stay directly in touch with the county's 18 state lawmakers, County Executive Robert R. Neall dropped in on the legislators.

"The county executive coming over to the State House to lobby the delegates, now that's a switch," said Perry. "In my four years down here, I don't remember (former County Executive O. James) Lighthizer coming to us on opening day."

As they walked from the State House to their new offices,Cadden and Sulin joked about the attention focused on legislators, particular the freshman, on opening day.

"I guess you are only new once," Cadden said. "And down here, new seems to get old pretty quick."

"Yeah, on the first day, you're fresh meat," Sulin said. "Afterthat, you're dead meat."

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