Rosenberg swings at some of the biggest issues

March 05, 2006|By C. FRASER SMITH

About this time every year, Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg heads south to the Oriole's Fantasy Camp in Sarasota, Fla.

He plays catch with Brooks Robinson or Boog Powell or one of the other former Oriole stars.

He catches a few rays and then heads back to Maryland overflowing with inside baseball stories, spouting numbers and speaking a new language: on-base average; Gold Glove (trust him) catcher's skills; and, sometimes, tales of the "frozen rope" (a line-drive base hit).

It's the kind of break a legislator needs in the middle of a grueling 90-day session of lawmaking.

Some readers may think I have unfurled the word "grueling" tongue-in-cheek. Not so. Right about now, think eight- or 10-hour days for weeks on end. Most legislators work hard and get little recognition.

Mr. Rosenberg, who represents a liberal Baltimore constituency, fits in both categories. The book on him, as they say around the Yards: not flashy but there for the tough ones; steady and smart.

He's been involved in some very challenging issues: looking for a compromise on stem cell research, for example, and trying to keep the dialogue civil. He's been working to expand voting rights and - for many years - searching for ways to protect children from lead-paint poisoning.

In recent days, the lead-paint issue passed yet another milestone. As of last week, landlords are required to have their properties virtually free of lead contamination. He's optimistic that good results will follow, but he's been working on the problem for years and knows the battle never ends.

And there's always a new battle. One of the big issues this year is eminent domain, the process by which government can take private property for certain public purposes.

"Eminent domain - condemning the private property of a homeowner or business person - is the most awesome power government can exercise in a civil (or non-criminal) setting," he wrote in a recent e-mail message to constituents.

The issue is hot this year because it's important and emotion-laden, and because it's an election year. Many of the bills were prompted by the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London last June, holding that the government can condemn someone's property and sell it to a for-profit business for economic development. "Replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton," in the words of recently retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The debate is one that will, with luck, show the General Assembly at its problem-solving best. Mr. Rosenberg has helped to fine-tune existing eminent domain law so that private property rights are protected without eliminating legitimate governmental uses.

He sponsored legislation that created a task force to study compensation for owners whose property has been condemned.

The task force recommended increases in compensation when property is taken and a requirement that existing businesses be given the opportunity to return to an area after it has been condemned and redeveloped.

Maryland's response to the eminent domain panic "will be more measured than our 49 counterparts," he predicts, "because our task force recommended a middle ground."

Not every day brings dramatic home runs. Delegate Rosenberg spent President's Day attending to constituent matters that don't go away during the Annapolis months.

If a city school named for former Superintendent Roland N. Patterson, for example, closes, can the memorial be preserved by transferring the name to some other public building?

He had a get-acquainted discussion with Loyola's new President, the Rev. Brian Linnane. They talked about how a religious institution deals with on-campus productions of controversial theater pieces. The lawmaker and the priest agreed the goal should be cultivation of thinking adults.

Delegate Rosenberg and Father Linnane found themselves in agreement on the death penalty (against), medical coverage for immigrants (for), and textbook aid for parochial schools (for). "We agreed to disagree on embryonic stem cell research, parental notice for minors seeking an abortion, and emergency contraceptives," the delegate said.

Sounds like Mr. Rosenberg was batting .500. Brooks and Boog would've been more than happy with that average.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays. His e-mail address is

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