Passed Bills No Indicator Of Success, Lawmakers Say

April 14, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — Buried in the archives of the Legislative Reference Building here are the indexes revealing what Carroll lawmakers have attempted to accomplish each year and how they fared.

The column listing final billstatus -- the legislative win-loss column -- shows relatively few stamps of approval from the governor, indicating enactment into law, for bills on which Carroll legislators were primary sponsors over the past five years.

It's nothing unique to Carroll's delegation. Only about one-thirdor less of all the bills introduced in any given year reach the governor's desk. But it is one way to evaluate legislators' effectiveness, a measure of their clout in the 188-member General Assembly.

Lawmakers say developing and introducing their own initiatives is only one aspect of their jobs and shouldn't be overemphasized as a performance barometer.

"If you can get 10 percent of the bills you introduce to go through, you're doing pretty well," said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore.

There's also constituent service,nuts-and-bolts work in committees, and votes on issues. But those rather mundane tasks don't appear to inspire the same passion for several of the Carroll legislators as sponsoring a bill that would result in a significant change in law.

The following is a look at how five Carroll legislators have fared on their own bills since 1987 and their philosophies about their roles in Annapolis. It excludes a sixth Carroll lawmaker, Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, who just completed his first year:

* Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll: Matthews has concentrated his personal efforts on judicial matters, attempting to stiffen criminal penalties and laws concerning drunken driving and drug abuse. None of his approximately 25 efforts -- many of them bills that were re-introduced -- passed the House Judiciary Committee, on which he serves.

Carroll's delegation chairman has been somewhat of a renegade in his committee, introducing some tough-minded plans without the benefit of backing from other legislatorsor state agencies.

However, Matthews enjoyed one significant triumph. Gov. William Donald Schaefer picked up on some of the drunken-driving proposals introduced for several years by Matthews, incorporating them into a comprehensive administration bill passed in 1989. Matthews was listed as a co-sponsor.

The Hampstead tire shop owner said he'd probably fare better by introducing business-oriented bills inthe Economic Matters Committee.

He said one of his top prioritiesis to work toward making the Republican Party -- numbering only 25 of the 141 delegates -- more influential in the House.

* Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll: Dixon's main personal triumph came this year with the passage of a bill requiring quarry companies to compensate nearby residents for damages they cause.

He also has been successful in securing money for projects in Carroll, including Carroll Haven Inc., a facility for the developmentally disabled, a new YMCA andWestern Maryland College library and classroom building projects.

Most bills he introduces are requested by constituents, he said.

"I'm not on a crusade to do something legislatively," he said. "Any bill that's significant is going to take a while."

Many of his bills have been directed toward changing the state's pension and retirement system.

* Delegate Donald B. Elliott: He co-sponsored the quarry bill and sponsored another this year prompting a change in the state's child abuse record-keeping policy. He has experienced setbacks inmost of his major initiatives addressing smoking, emissions inspections and sludge storage.

"I hope people don't look upon what appears to be failures, win-or-lose, so to speak," he said. "Like in my case and others, we do go back, and we do win the battle.

"You start out thinking you'll work hard to pass all your bills, but you have tobe realistic. I know I'm not going to. No legislator will."

* Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore: LaMotte has had somesuccess passing health care-oriented bills. In 1991, four of his ownbills passed, the most of any Carroll legislator in any one year since 1987.

A major initiative that would merge three Baltimore-area universities into a cohesive research institution met stiff opposition.

LaMotte said he focuses most of his effort on Environmental Matters Committee work.

"Just about every bill coming out has my fingerprint on it somewhere along the line," he said.

* Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard: Smelser prefers leaving the creation of bills to others, unless it comes from a committee he chairs.

Some bills he has sponsored successfully were an outgrowth of capital budget and prison committees he chaired. The list of his own bills is sparing.

He said his main role is to act as a watchdog onstate spending.

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