Getting to know you

January 12, 1995

The theme song for the General Assembly that opened yesterday apparently will be "Getting to Know You." Baltimore County's new legislative delegation should be humming the same tune throughout the first session of the 1995-98 term, as county legislators get to know each other, their Annapolis colleagues and the overall scheme of things at the state capital.

In a legislature where almost half the members are newcomers, the Baltimore County delegation is hardly bucking the trend. A full two-thirds of the jurisdiction's House of Delegates members are novices, including the first African-Americans elected to a non-federal office from the county.

Another first: Legislators based in Baltimore City and Howard County now count Baltimore County residents among their constituents, thanks to redistricting. A question still unanswered at the opening gong was whether these legislators will be allowed full voting rights at delegation meetings by their Baltimore County colleagues. The Baltimore County delegates embarrassed themselves last fall when they moved to allow only a partial say to the House members from the city and Howard County.

Also taking a wait-and-see attitude is the administration of Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Indeed, the session began with neither the executive nor the delegation touting their respective wish lists for the session. Besides requesting school construction funds, these lists figure to be as modest as those of Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders. At least the executive has made a conscious effort to establish relationships with delegation members and other leaders in Annapolis. Mr. Ruppersberger's involvement, a refreshing change from the aloofness of his predecessor, should benefit the county.

As for the returning county legislators, the inexperience of their new colleagues means they will have to assert themselves more -- not just to show the neophytes how it's done but, more importantly, to look after their jurisdiction's interests. This is especially crucial after the resignations and election defeats of veteran county legislators, such as Kenneth H. Masters of Catonsville, the former majority leader of the House of Delegates.

Budget restraints and a tilt toward conservatism have already generated predictions that this will be a cautious General Assembly session. That's probably a smart call, given the additional fact that legislators will be spending a good deal of the next three months getting to know each other.

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