Assembly puts focus on healing

But 7 in GOP protest re-election of Miller as Senate president Assembly's first day features attempts to heal wounds

January 11, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

The 415th Maryland General Assembly session opened yesterday with pomp, industry-sponsored receptions and the frequently expressed hope that 188 legislators can overcome recent unrest in their ranks and budget disagreements with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Monsignor Paul M. Dudziak, pastor of a Calvert County church, selected an apt theme for the prayer to begin business in the elegant Senate chamber, where many of the 47 members were accompanied by spouses and wriggling children.

He asked that the lawmakers be confronted with "mountains too high to climb, and chasms too wide to bridge, so that we learn to find our strength in you."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly listed the hours for shuttle buses that run to downtown Annapolis from the Navy-Marine Corps stadium lot. The correct hours are 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Sun regrets the error.

Chasms, indeed.

The kickoff of the 90-day legislative sprint found leading players eager - perhaps overeager in some instances - to play down recent fractures.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County, author of a quickly aborted attempt to knock off Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, delivered a brief speech endorsing Miller's record-breaking 15th year presiding over the Senate. Bromwell even issued an invitation for Miller to be his guest at the Super Bowl if the Baltimore Ravens advance that far.

Miller, who said later that Senate business would keep him from the game, told colleagues during the ceremonial opening meeting, "Senator Bromwell was, is, continues to be my friend."

However, the cordiality was breached, at least symbolically, by a rare opening-day protest vote against Miller.

Seven Republican senators, smarting from the unconventional tactics Miller used to bring the governor's gun safety bill to the floor last year, refused to vote for his re-election - a vote that by tradition is unanimous.

Sens. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County, Timothy R. Ferguson of Carroll and Andrew P. Harris of Baltimore County voted against Miller. Sens. Larry E. Haines of Carroll County, Christopher J. McCabe of Howard, and Nancy Jacobs and J. Robert Hooper of Harford abstained.

Six members of the Republican caucus voted for Miller. Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., the longest-serving member of the Senate, said he could not recall another instance of a vote against the majority party's choice of presiding officer in his 35 years in the chamber.

"You notice three red votes up there," Miller said, nonchalantly referring to "no" votes on the chamber's electronic tote board. "I don't mind those three red votes at all. I understand them."

Miller suggested the votes were the product of "partisanship" of the sort that plagues Congress. "It's very difficult for unifiers such as us to fight against that kind of partisanship," he said.

His touchy-feely sentiment was the order of the day. Throughout the refurbished State House, there were hugs and back slaps befitting a college homecoming weekend.

In the House chamber, Del. Wendell F. Phillips, a Baltimore Democrat, broke out animal crackers in an effort to distract Clarke, his 14-month-old daughter, who was enthralled by the microphone at each desk. "She manages to stay quiet until the governor speaks, and then she ekes something out, just like last year," Phillips said.

Joining the legislators on opening day were lobbyists, former lawmakers, local officials and congressmen.

"I feel like I have my sea legs," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is seeking additional funding for drug treatment, education and redevelopment in the second session since his election. "I feel we've done a lot better on building alliances."

Across State Circle, some lawmakers had wandered to the Governor Calvert House for a reception thrown by the state's alcohol industry, where a banner proclaimed: "Billions in Sales!"

This year, alcohol interests are worried about efforts to toughen Maryland's drunken-driving laws. Under a new federal law, states that fail to set a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent as the threshold for charging a driver with driving while intoxicated will lose some highway aid starting in 2003.

In Maryland, the minimum blood-alcohol level for a driving while intoxicated charge is 0.10 percent. William Pitcher, a lobbyist for Miller Brewing Co., pointed out that for a less severe driving under the influence charge, the Maryland threshold is 0.07 percent.

"I bet you 90 percent of the people in this room are already between 0.07 and 0.08," he said.

The drunken-driving bill is one of many measures expected to be contentious during the session. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. hinted at another one during a speech after being unanimously re-elected by his fellow delegates.

Taylor applauded the General Assembly's efforts to make sure all Marylanders benefit from the economic growth that has raised the state's per capita income to the highest in the nation. In particular, he pointed to the Children's Health Insurance Program.

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