Legislators' stances defy political tags

Delegation members offer their views on thorny topics

Differences on 3 subjects

Medical marijuana, private school books and drug aid at issue

March 18, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County boasts some of Maryland's most liberal legislators - and some of the state's most conservative - but neither ideology nor political party seems to count for much on several prickly issues.

Views on the medical use of marijuana, public money for private school textbooks, and state subsidies for prescription drugs for seniors highlight personal and pragmatic differences in Howard County's 11-member delegation, rather than political and ideological ones.

Conservative Republican Delegates Robert H. Kittleman and Donald E. Murphy say people dying of cancer should be able to use marijuana, if that helps, without worrying about being arrested. So do liberal Democrats Shane Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner.

"Darrell Putman was my constituent. He tried everything in the world and it didn't work. What works for one person doesn't work for someone else," Kittleman, the House GOP leader, said of the late western Howard farmer and former Green Beret who smoked marijuana to ease his symptoms and help his appetite - and who was the inspiration for a bill last year seeking to legalize medical marijuana use.

Still, Democrats Elizabeth Bobo and John A. Gianetti Jr., among others, oppose any move to change the drug's status.

"The problem of drugs is so prevalent in our society," Bobo said; she worries about any weakening of laws.

And Gianetti added, "I'm worried about increased availability to our kids."

That bill is dead for this year, but the issue isn't. Murphy, the bill's sponsor, would like to take it to a public referendum. "It's not done yet," he said.

Overall, Howard's legislators split 5-5 on medical use of marijuana, with Republican Robert L. Flanagan undecided.

Books for private schools

All three of the county's state senators, Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, fellow Republican Christopher J. McCabe and Democrat Edward J. Kasemeyer, supported giving public money to private schools for textbooks last year, but one, Kasemeyer, said he feels different this year.

"I didn't mind helping out," he said. "The governor said it was going to be a one-time thing."

Madden, however, said that the county has helped transport students to private schools for years, and that the government also aids private universities, so he sees no philosophical issue.

"I supported that last year, and I do again this year," he said of the textbook issue being pushed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

McCabe, chairman of the county's senators, had similar sentiments. "This is a recognition that Maryland parents are contributing to the educational system of Maryland. They're helping take kids out of the public system."

Some Democrats, like Del. James E. Malone Jr. and Gianetti, also support paying for private school books, while others, like Bobo, Pendergrass and Del. Frank S. Turner, strongly oppose it.

"Public dollars need to go to public schools," Pendergrass said, adding that using tobacco settlement money to buy the books is even worse in her view, though advocates say that doesn't remove money from public school funding.

"That money should be used for cancer and health issues," she said.

Turner said he went to Catholic school as a boy and said his parents "made the sacrifice. They didn't ask for anything."

And Republican Murphy, whose children attend a Lutheran school, said he's undecided, but isn't happy about "having government's big nose in our business."

But Malone, a Democrat who represents some low-income areas of southwestern Baltimore County, argues that some struggling church schools in places like Lansdowne need the help and that their communities need those schools. "Loyola and Gilman can't get this money," he said.

Flanagan, another supporter, said, "I think those parents deserve the assistance." Besides, he and Kittleman said, the public schools need the competition. "We've got to do something about education," Kittleman said. "It's broken, and we've got to find ways to challenge it."

Overall, the delegation splits 6-4 in favor, with Murphy undecided. The House of Delegates approved a budget Wednesday that eliminated all funds for private school textbooks, but the issue still must be settled in talks with the Senate.

Prescription aid

There's more unity on using state money to help older people buy prescription drugs while the federal government debates the issue. No Howard legislator opposes state action, but they vary on the degree of help, and three - McCabe, Murphy and Kittleman - were hesitant. Many support a bill that would extend the same discount given to state employees to lower-income seniors.

"Absolutely, we should jump on it," Bobo said, adding that Maryland's seniors can't afford to wait years for federal action. "It's unconscionable to have senior citizens who have been good, productive taxpayers all their lives" unable to afford medication.

"It's a pressing problem for a lot of seniors," Kasemeyer agreed, and Gianetti said, "I'm in favor of moving as fast as possible toward a solution."

Others, like Kittleman, aren't sure if the state can afford to help and worry that Glendening's budget is too bloated with spending - for the wrong things. Flanagan, his conservative partner, however, favors state spending on prescription drugs.

"I support efforts to try to help with prescription drugs," he said.

Where they stand

Howard County legislators' positions on three issues:

Private School Book Funding:

Yes - Sens. Madden, McCabe. Delegates Kittleman, Flanagan, Malone, Gianetti.

Undecided - Murphy

No - Senator Kasemeyer; Delegates Turner, Pendergrass, and Bobo.

Medical Use of Marijuana:

Yes - Senator Kasemeyer, Delegates Murphy, Kittleman, Turner and Pendergrass.

Undecided - Flanagan

No - Senators Madden and McCabe; Delegates Bobo, Malone and Gianetti.

Prescription Drug Subsidy:

Yes - Senators Madden and Kasemeyer; Delegates Malone, Turner, Gianetti, Pendergrass, Bobo and Flanagan.

Undecided - Senator McCabe; Delegates Kittleman and Murphy.

No - None.

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