For legislators, a break in the action

February 11, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz |

Maryland lawmakers attempted, on the 29th day of the 427th legislative session, to keep their usual daily rituals and workloads. But Wednesday's storm quickly whited out those plans.

Even the morning prayer in the House of Delegates, delivered by Del. Pamela G. Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, contained a desperate plea: "While we have your attention, please stop the snow. We are ready for spring."

The House and Senate tried - and largely failed - to strike a balance Wednesday as Mother Nature delivered the state an unprecedented punch. They're only in Annapolis for 90 days each year, and most of them take up quarters near the State House during that time. But at this stage, their work is dominated by public hearings often attended by regular citizens, which had to be canceled because of unsafe driving conditions. Most public hearings will be called off again today.

Even though 70 percent of the state's 188 lawmakers showed up for work, there was little lawmaking to be done.

The weather, some said jokingly, made for some of the best constituent services the state has ever seen.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, returned 309 e-mails and dialed up a handful of residents to talk to them personally. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, tidied his office. Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, put the finishing touches on seven bills.

By early afternoon, most had run out of chores. With the wind still whipping and Gov. Martin O'Malley and local leaders warning everyone to stay off the roads, almost all hunkered down for another Annapolis night.

"Truthfully, the members are restless," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat. "We're all here. We want to do something."

Frosh said his Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will be one of the few committees - possibly the only one - to hold public hearings today. The bills up for consideration are technical in nature or had full hearings in years past, Frosh said, diminishing the need for the public to attend.

Legislators can receive a stipend of up to $121 a night for lodging and about $40 a day for meals, and the majority of them take full advantage of the expense accounts.

In what was perhaps a nod to fiscal responsibility, at least two Republicans slept in their offices Tuesday and Wednesday. Kittleman, the Senate minority leader, said he worked until 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and rolled out a sleeping bag that he keeps for such occasions.

"You never know what's going to happen," he said. "This is a perfect example of that."

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican who lives close enough to sleep at home most nights, also bunked in his office.

Many delegates shared hotel rooms - or offices - with staff members.

John F. Favazza, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, slept in Del. Carolyn J. Krysiak's office, tucking his 6-foot frame onto her love seat.

Department of General Services' employees, who tried to keep up with the huge shoveling and salting effort around the State House, napped on couches whenever they could take a break.

Essential services are being provided: Starbucks opened promptly at 7 a.m., a popular Subway restaurant on Main Street did brisk business, and the capital city's tiny pubs were packed early in the afternoon.

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