By Sen. Roy Dyson

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As the Maryland General Assembly convenes for its 1998 session, I am working on several bills which I intend to introduce. Two of them deal with veterans issues. Vernon Gray of St. Mary's County pointed out to me that the hiring preference for veterans in the state had been quietly eliminated in recent personnel reform. I am working on a bill which will reinstate that preference.

Also, I am working on a resolution which would call for the restoration of full military honors at funerals in the Mid Atlantic region, including Maryland. Apparently Pentagon budget cutters eliminated ceremonial funeral duties for the 3rd U.S. Infantry stationed at Ft. Myer, Virginia. Giving a proper military burial to veterans who desire it is the least that we can do. They expect such ceremonies just as those who have gone before them have received. We should keep the promises made to our veterans.

Two other issues deal with driving. Earlier this year Mike Denney's class at Leonardtown High School developed a proposed bill and we went through a mock ceremony in Annapolis to put closure on the work the class did in developing that bill. This year I intend to introduce it. The class believes, as I do, that a student who is suspended from school should loose their driving privileges. Driving is not a right, but an earned privilege. The intent of the bill is not to be punitive, but is to underscore the importance of staying in school and not doing anything that would stand in the way of that happening.

I will also cosponsor, again this year, a bill which will lower to .08 the blood alcohol "per se" level for driving while intoxicated. This bill is the top priority for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I sponsored a similar bill last year and am proud to do so this year. The rallying cry is ".08 in ‘98."

Statistics provided by MADD show it's a myth that social drinkers will attain a level of .08 after one or two beers with a pizza. The fact is that a 170 pound male needs to drink at least four, 12-ounce cans of beer, four five-ounce glasses of wine or four mixed drinks in one hour on an empty stomach to reach the .08 level. A 137 pound female needs to drink three or four drinks of the same size to reach .08. At those levels all driving skills are affected.

A couple of other issues which need to be addressed in 1998 deal with our farmers and watermen. Of course the legislature has before it the Blue Ribbon Citizens Pfiesteria Action Commission report which calls for some strict controls on farming. Representing both a farming and a fishing area, I want to make sure that both industries are protected. But we need to have all the facts available before we impose additional regulations and financial burdens on farmers who are not causing the problem.

The other issue left over from 1997 is what to do about the impending sunset of waiting lists and license caps on commercial fishing licenses. Last year we proposed an apprenticeship program which would allow newcomers to bypass the waiting list and become commercial watermen after going through an apprenticeship program. The current waiting list program works against newcomers with no existing family ties to persons holding a license.

A committee was formed by the House Environmental Matters Committee to study the issue. They began meeting late in the year and so far I have not been informed of the outcome. But since that bill which set up the waiting list system sunsets this year something needs to be done now. I will continue to fight for some apprenticeship program..

I have mentioned before that perhaps the biggest issue facing the legislature is a good problem to have: what to do with the $200 million plus surplus. After this article has been written the governor was expected to announce plans for extra transportation funding in Southern Maryland and also additional educational funding. I favor using as much of the surplus as possible for school and road infrastructure projects. Using surpluses for capital projects makes sense since they do not require continual funding as programs do, and there is no assurance that those surplus monies will be with us in the future.

None of the bills I have mentioned above have been finalized to the point that they can't be changed. So if you have any comments please call my Annapolis office at 1-800-492-7122, extension 3673. That office will be open every day during the 90-day session. And my administrative aide, Dick Myers, will be in the Great Mills office Mondays until the end of session. Additionally that office will be run the remaining days of the week by a volunteer. You can call the office at 301-994-2826 or visit at 20247 Pt. Lookout Road (Rt. 5).

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