ANNAPOLIS -- As the Gershwin song goes, they all laughed -- at Christopher Columbus, Hershey and his chocolate bar, and the dogged female legislators who wanted to make "potty parity" the law of the land.
But with the unanimous approval yesterday of Senate Bill No. 437, known officially as "Public Restrooms -- Number of Sanitary Fixtures," the women might have the last laugh.
"It was a joke. Everybody laughed and thought it was funny," Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman said of the legislation's history in the General Assembly. "Perhaps there's not so much desire now to laugh at things of interest to women."
The Senate bill's sponsors included not only eight of the nine female senators, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore.
But the legislature actually has two quite different bills to consider. The House of Delegates passed its version, 126-1.
The Senate version would authorize the State Board of Plumbing to set a ratio of women's fixtures to men's for each new entertainment establishment. It already does this, but not in gender-specific terms.
The ratio might vary from place to place, but there must always be more fixtures for women than men, under the Senate version. While the standards would not be applied retroactively, any establishment that undergoes substantial renovations would have to comply as of Oct. 1.
"You know, the beauty of this is that the plumbing board can already do this," said Ms. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat.
The House bill is broader, applying to all future public meeting places that hold more than 100 people, but mandating only equal numbers of fixtures. It would be tied to construction permits issued after May 1, 1993, but would have no impact on renovated structures.
The House could approve the Senate bill, or vice versa. Or amended bills could end up in a conference committee, where members would seek to work out the differences.