Morgan suddenly a player

March 02, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Howard Republican Del. John S. Morgan first got elected to his office in 1990 by hammering away at the issue of political ethics. But during his first term he made little headway on the issue as one of only a handful of Republicans in the state legislature.

Now in his second term, he has gained seniority. He's among a much larger corps of Republicans. And, as the 1995 legislative session rolls into its usually more frenetic second half, the Laurel-area representative is leading the GOP effort to ban all gifts to legislators from lobbyists and others who have a stake in legislation.

"This is the strongest bill here on that issue," said Mr. Morgan, who has been assigned to shepherd the so-called "no cup of coffee bill" through the legislature as the ranking Republican on the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

"With the Republican vote solidly behind ethics reform, we can pass very strong legislation this year. We have a chance to make an historic change in lobbyist legislation."

Mr. Morgan is one of five veteran Howard Republicans working to make good on the "contract with Maryland," the Republican rallying cry championed by gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey and nearly 100 General Assembly candidates in last fall's election.

That contract calls for an income tax cut, a constitutional limit on the growth of state spending and lobbying reforms -- all issues in which the Howard Republican lawmakers are intimately involved.

"They're playing rather prominent roles in shepherding through the legislative package for the contract with Maryland, and that's no easy chore" in a legislature reluctant to make sweeping changes, said Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll County Republican whose district included a portion of Howard until this year.

In contrast, the three freshman Democrats from Howard are, for the most part, keeping a lower profile as they learn the Assembly's rhythms and politics. The fourth Howard Democrat, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, rejoined the Senate this year after a four-year absence.

"Things are very fast-moving. You have all you can do to keep up in committee," said Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass of East Columbia. "I really feel like a freshman, which is good. I'm learning."

Howard Republican Robert H. Kittleman, the House minority leader, has spent much of the first half of the session trying to forge a "cohesive, united" GOP to pursue the Republicans' agenda.

As the minority leader, Delegate Kittleman is the primary sponsor on two Maryland constitutional amendments intended to place limits on state spending. Those bills would allow the Assembly to limit the governor's budget appropriations and tie growth in state spending to measures of personal income growth.

The western Howard representative also is the primary sponsor of a bill to abolish the legislative scholarship program -- an effort .. he began nearly a decade ago that has slowly gained support. That bill would take the authority to award money to high school students out of legislators' hands and place it with a nonpolitical state program.

Western Howard's other Republican delegate, Robert L. Flanagan, a House Appropriations Committee member, led a Republican work group's effort to find budget cuts sufficient to allow a 6 percent income tax cut. He also is working on a budget subcommittee tackling welfare reform.

Budget and tax decisions are likely to divide the Assembly -- including the Howard delegation -- during the second half.

Freshman Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat from East Columbia, said he favors Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to hold money in reserve to guard against projected deficits in the next few years rather than granting tax relief now.

"I don't think people want a feel-good tax cut and then we'll have to come back and raise taxes in the next few years," he said.

But Republican Sen. Martin G. Madden, who represents southeastern Howard, contends that an income tax cut is necessary this year to stimulate the economy. He noted that Maryland ranks near the bottom nationally in job creation.

"The idea to reserve $200 million and give it back in future years is not good economic policy," Mr. Madden said.

In addition to Mr. Morgan, three other Howard legislators -- Mr. Madden, Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe and Democratic Del. Elizabeth Bobo -- have introduced measures to increase disclosure requirements for lobbyists and crack down on gift-giving. The flurry of lobbying-related bills has been spawned in part by the mail fraud conviction in November of Annapolis' highest-paid lobbyist, Bruce Bereano.

Three Howard Republicans are working on criminal justice reforms:

* Mr. Flanagan has introduced a package of bills to increase access to the confidential criminal records of juveniles. One bill would allow school superintendents access to information. Others would provide exceptions to confidentiality when delinquent acts are committed with a firearm or when judicial officials decide whether a defendant charged as an adult should be released before a trial.

* Mr. McCabe's bill would create an advisory committee to review sentencing patterns, recommend a range of penalties for particular crimes, evaluate alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and determine how corrections resources would be best allocated.

* Mr. Madden's bill would require a court to sentence criminals convicted a second time of a violent crime to serve the maximum term in prison.

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