This year's General Session started slowly, ended fast

Posted on April 29, 1999 at 21:33:16:

The 1999 General Assembly Session started out like the slowly paced, staid and formal motion picture "Howard's End" and ended like the "Fugitive" -- fast and furious with the main characters running against time to save their best interests.

In the end, the heart-pounding pace of the General Assembly was to Southern Maryland's extraordinary advantage.

With just 72 hours left to go in the session before convening on April 12 (Sine Die), two major bills that would greatly help Southern Maryland were on death's door. In the end, they survived. I call them my Lazarus bills.

The first major bill, sponsored by all of the Southern Maryland delegation, creates the long-awaited College of Southern Maryland -- a regional college that now will be eligible for substantially more money from the state for capital projects. It will also unite Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles students under one cohesive institution.

This bill didn't come easy. As early as April 9, the delegation was still hammering out details of the bill that would appease county and state officials representing all three counties. The meeting to finalize the finer points of the bill was excruciatingly tense. I kept dashing out of the Senate where numerous bills were being voted on to keep abreast of the minute-to-minute negotiations.

Finally, a deal was reached and I was able to rush the bill through two of my committees and got the bill on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr.'s desk minutes before a filibuster over the tobacco tax was to get underway. This filibuster threatened to go as long as midnight of the final day of session which would have killed any legislation pending in the Senate. Luckily, Senator Miller was able to present the regional college to the Senate before the filibuster began and it was unanimously passed by the Senate. The House passed the regional college the next day.

The filibuster turned out to be the most suspenseful happening of the 90-day session. It all began after the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee presented a 36 cent tobacco tax increase to the Senate. This was a big cut from Governor Glendening's proposed $1 increase, but Republicans and several Democrats such as myself, didn't want to see a tax of any kind. I've always opposed tax increases whenever possible and felt it especially ludicrous that with Maryland enjoying a substantial budget surplus that we would impose a tax!

Desperately wanting the filibuster to end so pending legislation could be heard and voted on by the Senate, Governor Glendening feverishly worked with lawmakers to end the filibuster. The governor called me aside on that Saturday and asked me to vote to end the filibuster. For me and my Southern Maryland colleague Thomas "Mac" Middleton to quit the ranks of the filibustering Republicans, the governor promised something his budget secretary had advised him not to do several weeks earlier -- give 5 percent of Maryland's tobacco settlement to our farmers. Senator Middleton and I had introduced a bill requesting the five percent, but the committee that heard the bill showed little passion for it. To get him to agree to give our farmers 5 percent of the settlement proved to be a huge coup for Southern Maryland.

I agreed to vote to end the filibuster as I promised the governor, but I still voted against the tax increase.

While not nearly as dramatic, I was pleased to sponsor two other bills that passed. You may not know it, but it is illegal in Maryland to put Department of Defense clearance stickers on the top middle windshield of one's car -- although I'm sure you've noticed, many have put their stickers there. My good law-abiding friend Captain Paul Roberts, commander of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, informed me of this law and asked me to change it. That change will become law when the governor signs it.

While many DOD personnel do have stickers on their windshields, those knowing its illegal put them elsewhere. This ties up traffic going into military installations as well as roads and highways going by DOD and military facilities. It also puts security personnel in harms way if they have to leave their safety booths and get out in traffic to spot a DOD sticker before letting someone into a secured installation.

Now, traffic will move faster and our security officers will be safer.

Another bill I'm proud of is one that will keep home and land owners much better informed when landfill systems are applied for by the county or state. Now, a landfill applicant will have to give notice of hearings in addition to informational meetings regarding their intentions to install a landfill. The law also requires applicants to give notice to land owners of real property within 1,000 feet of the property line of the proposed landfill system by certified mail. Additionally, applicants must give notice by posting a notice of the application, the informational meeting and hearings in a conspicuous area on the proposed landfill site.

Now, applicants won't be able to rush through new landfills without input from the public as they had been able to in the past.

So, how do I feel about how Southern Maryland did in this year's General Assembly? I'm still smiling and I will be for quite some time.

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