General Assembly's invisible record

February 22, 1994

This week marks the midway point in the General Assembly session and so far the 188 legislators have a perfect record: They've accomplished absolutely nothing of great import since arriving in Annapolis on Jan. 12.

Most of the lawmakers are eager to get out of town without doing damage to their reelection campaigns. The less legislating they can accomplish, the better they like it. Other state lawmakers are transfixed by the one glamorous issue of the session -- sports stadiums. All that matters for them is either killing or approving a Redskins stadium for Laurel; killing or supporting a football stadium in Camden Yards; defeating or endorsing a new indoor arena in Landover, or possibly a new indoor facility in Baltimore.

What happened to other issues before the legislature? Why aren't lawmakers doing something concrete about the crime problem? Where's the concerted action to limit the number of handguns individuals can buy? Where's action to reform the welfare system or further refine Maryland's health-care system? Where is the support for legislative scholarship reform or reforming the state's vulnerable contracting system?

After nearly 45 days in session, lawmakers have remained curiously silent about these matters. They'd rather not face them until after the election. Why cast a tough vote that might prove costly on primary election day?

Yet legislators won't be able to ignore all these issues. Gun control measures may yet make their way to the Senate floor. So could scholarship reform. A welfare compromise still may emerge. And even the governor's cigarette tax package could be drastically revamped and reshaped to appeal to lawmakers' election-year tastes.

So far, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's fixation on matters of sports has frozen action in the Senate across the board. We hope that Mr. Miller realizes the danger he runs in forcing these stadium matters into the legislative arena -- things could get very sticky. Unless he's careful, he could trigger a major Senate filibuster and prompt bitter, divisive regional struggles that might well undermine his own presidency.

We continue to believe that stadium decisions are best left to the executive to handle at this stage. There's no reason for premature legislative interference -- especially when state lawmakers have so much important business they have barely touched. The first half of this session has been a washout. Delegates and senators had better take care that they do better in the remaining days. A "do-nothing" session wouldn't look good on the campaign trail.

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