3 Lawmakers Recall High Notes As Curtain Falls On Session

'Leadership' Works For, Against Local Initiatives

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

ANNAPOLIS — Two Carroll delegates reintroduced the same bill this year as last year to protect residents from damage caused by mining.

Mining industry officials came here in droves both years to oppose the legislation.

Last year, the House Environmental Matters Committee defeated thebill, 17-5.

This year, an amended version sailed through the samecommittee and passed the full House and Senate by wide margins, and it is about to become law.

Why the turnaround this year on a bill that had been submitted -- and defeated -- in various forms for the previous three years? Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, sums up the main reason in one word: leadership.

Translated, that means the power brokers in Maryland politics -- the speaker of the House, president of the Senate and chairmen of the General Assembly's 10 standingcommittees.

"We had some significant support from leadership in the House and Senate," said Dixon. "It made a significant difference."

The Environmental Matters Committee had a new chairman this year,who worked to refine the bill and aid its passage.

Annapolis is strewn with pitfalls for legislators. Carroll lawmakers have encountered all the obstacles. They have sponsored some bills year after year that they believe are logical and constructive, only to see them shotdown.

Sometimes, they are dumbfounded for an explanation. But when they can't deduce reasons for a bill's failure, they'll exasperatedly offer the catch-all answer: "That's Maryland politics."

Legislative leaders can single-handedly kill a bill they don't like through their influence. Lobbyists carry a big stick, and sometimes expect returned favors from legislators. Industries resist changes that will affect them. And state agencies affected by a bill usually must support it for the legislation to survive.

Lobbyists and mining industryexecutives were effective in defeating the quarry bill in past years, said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, a co-sponsor.

"When you have a horde of lobbyists come down representing an industry, it's not the individual lobbyists so much, but the numbers," said Elliott. "The perception is you must be doing something real harmful to the industry.

"Sometimes a bill is not a work of legislative art, and the industry makes no effort to make it more agreeable. Their interest is just to kill it."

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, has sponsored a bill for the last six years that would require the registration of all-terrain vehicles, making it easier to identify those riders trespassing on private and government properties. Carroll farmers have supported the bill, complaining that ATVriders have damaged crops. Baltimore City public works officials, who say riders have damaged three reservoir watersheds, also back the bill. But motorcycle and recreational vehicle groups have opposed it.

The House Judiciary Committee killed it the last two years. LaMotte said one committee member has "effectively squelched" it. Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, a committee member, said the ATV industry "seems to have more of a hold on the legislators than the individual county that wants the bill. It's more economics than philosophy."

The committee overwhelming rejects every year several of Matthews' repeated efforts to toughen sentences, alter court procedures, strengthen drunken-driving laws and finance law enforcement efforts through criminal penalties.

Matthews realizes the odds are against himevery year, because many committee members are lawyers who find flaws with attempts to change the legal system. The panel once was known as the "Killer Committee" for its penchant for rejecting bills.

Elliott ran into a wall this year in a repeat attempt to spread costs statewide for the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program -- now paid by drivers in Baltimore and seven metropolitan-area Maryland counties. The Environmental Matters chairman, an Eastern Shore delegate, opposedit. He made his position clear to committee members, who rejected the bill, 21-2.

The Carroll delegate also has made little progress in working with the waste disposal industry in crafting a bill to tighten the state's permitting process for sludge storage facilities. Theindustry's testimony has helped kill flawed bills for two straight years.

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