Multi-member districts give citizens choices The League...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 23, 2000

Multi-member districts give citizens choices

The League of Women Voters' proposal to re-align Baltimore's City Council into nine single-member districts is ill-conceived ("A small setback for good government," editorial, Sept. 2).

At present, voters pick three council-members from each district. And, for perhaps as long as there has been a City Council, constituent service has been a large part of council members' duties.

It is unrealistic for Baltimore League of Women Voters President Millie Tyssowski to suggest "services performed by council members for their constituents such as problems of trash, potholes" will decrease after well over a century of members doing such things ("Cut the City Council to nine members," Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 8).

With the city's dearth of funds, and as Mayor Martin O'Malley makes employee and service reductions, city agencies will be hard-pressed to provide services, especially without that push from a council member. Thus there will still be a need for council members to serve as ombudsmen for their constituents and the people will still desire that service.

The district's three council members are individuals, with different personalities and agendas. Under the current system each constituent has a choice of which representative is most likely to respond to his or her needs.

A resident can usually find at least one of the three who shares his or her views and can be looked to for help. And if one member won't do the job, the citizen can turn to another. Citizens have three chances to find help.

But if there were only one council member per district, and the election winner was completely unsatisfactory and unresponsive to a resident's needs, where could that citizen turn for help?

Baltimore has a long tradition of multiple-member council districts and of constituents depending on members to get services. Multi-member districts give citizens alternatives to turn to for constituent services.

Harry E. Bennett Jr., Baltimore

Congress needs to take action on critical issues

As we head into the last weeks of the 106th Congress, we have the opportunity to enact important legislation, but only if the Republican leaders in the House and Senate decide it's time to set politics aside and get down to business.

Unfortunately, this Congress has little to show for itself on important issues that Americans feel strongly about, such as prescription drug coverage under Medicare, a patient's bill of rights, education, gun safety and campaign finance reform.

These five issues have strong bipartisan support in Congress. In political parlance, these bills are all "doable." Yet at this time, they are not getting done.

The problem rests with the leaders of this Congress who have chosen not to move forward.

This is a time when the Republican leaders in the House and Senate should be aggressively pushing to enact the major agenda items of this Congress. They should be searching for bipartisan agreements with the minority party and the president so that these high-priority bills can become law.

Instead, the pace of legislative activity has actually slowed down.

There is major legislation hanging in the balance. Let's take the Patients Bill of Rights Act (PBRA). In January, a study showed that 72 percent of Americans want a patients' bill of rights that includes the right to sue their health plan.

Instead of putting the PBRA, which has strong bipartisan support, on the floor for a final vote, the leadership has had it bottled up in a conference committee for nearly a year. It is possible the bill will die there upon adjournment, which is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Much the same is true of bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

In September 1999, with strong Republican and Democratic support, campaign finance reform legislation that would ban soft money passed the House. Yet Senate leaders have chosen to keep campaign finance reform stuck in a conference committee, where it could very well die.

The story repeats itself with education, gun safety, and prescription drugs for seniors. Stall and delay appear to be the tactics used by congressional leaders to avoid passing legislation that most Americans clearly support.

Some political observers ascribe the stalling to politics. Some have speculated that the Republicans want to deny President Clinton a legacy in the form of a prescription drug benefit under Medicare or a patients' bill of rights.

But it is pretty poor politics to let issues that Americans care about die a political death.

There is still time left for this Congress to get down to business. We have a full agenda -- on education, gun safety, campaign finance reform, patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs for Medicare -- but we also have enough bipartisan support to get bills enacted.

But, while many Democratic and Republican members are fighting to get these bills enacted, it's clear that the Republican leadership does not want these bills to become law.

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