Tapes capture debates-and expletives LEGISLATURE '92

March 16, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Perhaps you missed Baltimore Sen. Clarence W. Blount's eloquent defense of the state dinosaur.

Or maybe you slept in Friday, when Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, called Sen. Julian L. Lapides a "[expletive] demagogue, a big mouth [expletive]" and then strode from a committee room with this departing sally: "I ain't taking that crap!"

Not to worry. The Maryland Senate has joined the modern age and everything the senators say now is taped for posterity.

Not available in any stores, the tapes of Senate committee hearings and floor sessions can be reviewed for free in the Legislative Library, or purchased for $5 per cassette.

Puccini, it's not. But the tapes do have Piccinini (as in Sen. Janice), the other 46 senators, and everyone who testifies or speaks in committee hearings.

Even near-whispers are picked up by the sound systems, which use state-of-the-art digital tape. But committee voting sessions are not recorded -- at the request of the committee chairmen.

Taping in the Senate began as an experiment last summer. This is the first regular legislative session in which Senate proceedings are being taped.

In the House of Delegates, only meetings of the Appropriations Committee are now recorded.

There is little demand for the tapes. Through March 4, only 34 copies had been requested, and one-fifth of those were for members and staff. The public requested seven tapes, the media only one. Only four people listened to tapes on the premises.

There is little evidence that taping has kept senators from speaking their minds.

Consider Friday's meeting of the Budget and Taxation pension subcommittee. The tape makes it easy to reconstruct the flare-up, although it cannot confirm the juiciest rumor, which had Mr. Bromwell leaping across the table. (Mr. Lapides later maintained it was merely a verbal exchange.)

The fight began when Senator Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat, criticized Senator Bromwell's support for an early-retirement program for the Maryland State Police.

Mr. Lapides, sighing: "I'm the only one who tells the truth. Everybody likes to kiss everyone's a- -, but this is absurd and we might as well say it!"

Mr. Bromwell: "Senator, that's your opinion and we all have our opinions and let me tell you something right now: I don't kiss anyone's a- -. If that's what you're implying, if that's what you're implying, I'm not going to take that crap. . . .

"Jack, It's 9 o'clock in the morning and let me tell you, I'm not going to take that s- - - from anybody. Do we have an understanding?"

Baltimore Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., interjecting: "This is being taped, fellas!"

Mr. Bromwell: "That p- - - - - me off and put that on the record!"

Mr. Irby [softly, to himself]: "It's on there."

Mr. Bromwell [his voice rising steadily]: "It's a good thing I don't come over there and smack you. It's a good g- - - - - - thing I don't come over there and smack you. You're a g- - - - - - a- - - - - - -. G- - - - - - demagogue. Big-mouth a- - - - - -!" [Here, his voice fades, apparently as he leaves the room]. "I ain't going to take that crap!"

A brief silence follows.

Then Sen. William H. Amoss, a Harford Democrat, says: "Well, let's ask a few more questions."

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