Legislators reject women's panel

January 28, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll legislators voted 5-1 yesterday not to introduce a bill in the General Assembly to create a county women's commission. They said the commission would evolve into a taxpayer-supported lobbying group.

Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, a District 5B Democrat, voted for the commission and was incredulous that his colleagues opposed it.

"This is 1994, and we're discussing whether or not there should be a commission for women in Carroll County. Most places had that discussion 20 years ago," he said. "That there's a controversy around it is absolutely amazing to me."

Carroll legislators probably are the first county delegation to refuse to submit legislation on a women's commission, said Joanne M. Saltzberg, executive director of the Maryland Commission for Women.

"Normally, the big hurdle is the county commissioners," she said.

The state, Baltimore and 13 counties have women's commissions.

Uniontown resident Rachelle Hurwitz, who organized the effort to create a Carroll County Commission for Women, said yesterday that she will establish a private commission instead.

"God works in mysterious ways. The delegation vote against this has now given us the opportunity to be more effective in the community" because the group will not have governmental restraints, she said.

She and a nine-member steering committee will establish a private foundation or form a corporation called the Carroll County Commission for Women, Ms. Hurwitz said.

County legislators discussed the proposed bill for a half-hour during a 90-minute Carroll delegation meeting at the House office building.

The proposed women's commission would have written an agenda for government to deal with women's issues and would have provided information to women about services available to them. The commission would have been nonpartisan, and men could have joined.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, a District 4 Democrat, grew agitated with the debate.

"Why shouldn't men have an office? I'm tired of all the caucuses -- black, white, yellow, red. It all helps to polarize the community," he said.

The senator also said he was disturbed that the debate on the women's commission had veered toward religion.

The issue of religion surfaced in November at a meeting where the county commissioners presented their proposals to the delegation. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she had heard comments from some residents that the commission "could take on a religious aspect because Rachelle is Jewish."

The Rev. Theresa Modesto, a United Methodist minister and steering committee member, said at a public hearing Saturday that Mrs. Gouge told her Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-District 5, had expressed concerns about religion.

Mrs. Gouge and Mr. Haines said they had not talked about the issue before the November meeting.

Ms. Hurwitz said she had invited women of many religions to be part of the steering committee.

About 100 people attended Saturday's hearing sponsored by the delegation on the county bills.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said yesterday that religion should not have been part of the debate.

Ms. Hurwitz, a Democrat, and Mr. Haines, a member of the conservative Church of the Open Door, clashed along religious and political lines, Mr. Lippy said.

"I don't know what else I can do," said Mr. Lippy, who voted in October to support the women's commission. "Judging from the letters and phones calls [he's received], I'm certainly not on the popular side."

Mrs. Gouge also voted to create the commission. Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted against it.

Ms. Hurwitz, asked if she felt religion was a deciding factor in the legislators' decision, said, "God only knows, and he's not talking."

Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-District 5A, said in November that he would vote for a women's commission. Yesterday, he tried to amend the bill to ensure that the commission could not receive county money.

As it was written, the legislation would allow the county to give the commission money, he said.

Mr. LaMotte said the commission should be allowed to receive in-kind services, such as the use of a county office and phone.

Mr. Dixon said allowing in-kind services eventually would lead to more government funding.

Mr. Dixon also tried to amend the bill to say the county commissioners would appoint 10 of the 15 members of the women's commission.

The legislation said the commissioners would appoint seven members, the steering committee would appoint seven, and the 15th member would be elected by the other 14 members.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-District 4B, said he was concerned about the women's commission agenda. The state women's commission has said it will work to restore Medicaid funding for abortions, he said. Many women in his district would disagree with that, he said.

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