Boosted by election gains, county GOP legislators poised to push their agenda

January 11, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County's Republican state legislators say opportunities are better than ever this year to advance their long-time causes -- tax reductions, lobbying restrictions and welfare, criminal justice and ethics revisions.

Republican gains in Maryland's 1994 election and new policy directions coming from Washington give Howard's GOP lawmakers -- the majority of the 11-member delegation -- reason for optimism as the General Assembly session opens today.

"People are talking in terms of downsizing government and reducing costs," said Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan, chairman of the county's House delegation. "I'm somewhat optimistic we're beginning to move in a direction we ought to be moving in. We could very well have a tax cut this year."

The county's own legislative agenda is relatively light. The only local bill likely to generate countywide interest is the ethics bill that will be introduced for the fifth year by Sen. Martin G. Madden and Del. John S. Morgan, both Republicans.

That bill would require applicants for zoning changes to disclose financial contributions to elected county officials. Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed the bill last year.

In addition, Howard legislators will make their annual pitch for school construction money to meet the demands of a rapidly growing student population. Republicans and Democrats say they will work as a team to lobby for projects the county's elected officials see as high priorities.

Five returning Republicans will be joined by six freshmen -- five Democrats and one Republican -- to form Howard's delegation. Two of those new members -- Dels. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat, and Donald E. Murphy, a Republican -- are Catonsville-area residents who represent a district composed primarily of Baltimore County.

While the newly elected Democrats -- Mr. Malone, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer and Dels. Frank Turner, Shane Pendergrass and Elizabeth Bobo -- prepare for a year of learning, several veteran Republicans say they hope to play a major role in guiding state policy.

Del. Robert H. Kittleman, elected by peers last month to replace Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey as the House minority leader, said he is preparing to re-establish a true two-party system in the State House.

Republican legislators, who started making their voices heard during the last two terms in the Democrat-dominated legislature, will have more influence now that Republicans have increased their numbers from nine to 15 in the 47-member Senate and from 25 to 41 in the 141-member House.

"I'm going to spend an awful lot of my time to form a cohesive, viable and effective Republican Caucus," said Mr. Kittleman, a fourth-term Republican representing Ellicott City and western Howard. "Republicans are now a force in the General Assembly. Everything the [House] speaker does, he'll have to consider the Republican response."

One indication of the state Republicans' growing influence may be the fact that the Senate is considering elimination of the state scholarship program this year.

Mr. Kittleman started the drive to abolish the program nearly a decade ago, with little support. Now many legislators and advocacy groups agree that letting legislators dispense money to constituents for college scholarships may be ethically improper.

Mr. Flanagan, who also represents Ellicott City and western Howard, plans to focus on the state's welfare system as a member of a House budget subcommittee on health and human resources.

"We need to begin to build a system that encourages responsibility rather than irresponsibility and good parenting rather than bad parenting," said Mr. Flanagan, who previously has supported capping benefits for mothers who have additional children while receiving welfare.

Mr. Flanagan, an attorney who has unsuccessfully tried to change the juvenile justice system, plans to introduce a measure to loosen confidentiality on juvenile records and to toughen penalties for juvenile offenders.

Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, who represents western Howard County, hopes to reform criminal sentencing through a commission to study Maryland's courts, prisons and probation and parole systems.

Mr. McCabe said violent criminals should serve their entire sentences, and nonviolent offenders should receive alternative penalties, such as home detention, which would save prison space.

He and Mr. Madden said they will support efforts to ban gifts from lobbyists to legislators, such as tickets to sporting events. "It's not just the big lobbyists," Mr. McCabe said. "Groups now feel for their issue to be advanced, they have to pay somebody."

The Democrats, meanwhile, say that as freshmen they will need a year to figure out how the legislature works. But they also plan to press for universal health insurance coverage, changes in juvenile justice and renewed attention to environmental issues.

And Mr. McCabe said even the veteran legislators will be "feeling their way around. It's a very uncertain time, I think an exciting time," he said.

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