Sure, it's common sense, but should it be a law?

January 22, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Do you get steamed when a guy yakking on his car phone veers into your lane and cuts you off?

Does your blood pressure rise when a punk rocker parks in front of your house and turns up his 1,000-watt radio to blast-furnace level -- playing the Dead Milkmen?

Ladies: Do you ever spend anxious minutes in line to use one of two toilets in a public restroom while men breeze in and out of their better-equipped bathroom?

Do you ever mutter between clenched teeth, "THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW AGAINST THAT!"

So have people who can do something about it, namely your state delegates and senators.

They have come to Annapolis with bills that address those common annoyances and others. No matter the subject, the bills all try to legislate good old common sense, and almost all of them fail.

Some see such bills as frivolous while others swear that legislation is the only way to solve an everyday problem.

Legislators tend to draw heavily on their own lives for inspiration.

Take the car-phone bill, which would require people to use a voice-activated feature on their car phone if they want to make calls while driving. The feature would enable them to keep both hands free.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski, hopped a ride with a friend who has a car phone. While motoring on stoplight-studded Route 2 in Anne Arundel County, the driver held the receiver with one hand and steered with the other.

"He wasn't paying attention and we went off the road partly. I hollered, 'Watch out!' and we were OK," the Pasadena Democrat said.

An accident led another legislator, Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, to introduce his own auto-safety legislation this session.

Mr. Amoss's bill would require drivers operating their windshield wipers in rain, fog or snow to put their headlights on as well.

Mr. Amoss was driving in the rain in Baltimore a while ago when he failed to see a truck that didn't have its lights on. He forced the truck onto a curb, causing damages that cost the senator about $500. No one was hurt.

Although he is hopeful this year, Mr. Amoss acknowledges that this attempt to legislate good driving habits has failed in the past.

The reason? Some people believe you should not fill up state law books with measures designed primarily to get Marylanders to act sensibly.

"I think we have as many laws as we need," said James J. Doyle Jr., a lobbyist for a mobile phone company, in opposing the phone bill.

Many legislators tend to agree. "One hates to legislate common sense," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, a co-sponsor of the headlights-in-bad-weather bill. "On the other hand, it may make sense to do."

Some bills, such as the so-called potty parity bill, arise from the collective experience of a group.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, thinks it's about time stadiums, convention centers and theaters started treating male and female patrons equally. She introduced a bill that would require them to provide women with as many toilets as they provide men (counting urinals).

A similar bill failed last year.

Del. Joanne C. Benson is tired of being awakened at 3 a.m. by cars playing "loud, loud, loud, loud" music.

She introduced a bill that would ban motorists from cranking up their radios so high that they produce 80 or more decibels of noise 50 feet from the vehicle. (By way of comparison, a smoke detector produces 100 to 120 decibels, fire officials say.)

Del. Joel Chasnoff was dining in Virginia one day when he noticed that self-service buffets post a notice reminding diners to use a clean plate every time they come back for more food, his aide said.

Of course, basic hygiene is behind the idea. If you scoop food onto a plate from which you've eaten, you could transfer your germs to the utensils and foods at buffet bars.

Mr. Chasnoff, a Democrat from Olney, decided to introduce a bill requiring restaurants to post clean-plate reminders.

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