General Assembly Journal 2008 – Volume 3
The Mid-way Point
No, the title does not refer to the famous naval battle involving bombardment of the island in World War II. I’m talking about being halfway through the 425th Session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Maybe there’s a Freudian slip thing going on. It sometimes feels as though a beachhead is being defended against an invasion down here.
Last Monday night, CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group I’ve written about in the past, flooded Annapolis with advocates. They visited legislator’s offices and held a large and loud rally in Lawyers Mall just before the start of the regular evening session.
Now that I’ve decided not to “re-up” for another go at this, I’ve taken to carefully watching the process down here. I guess I’m trying to burn memories into my brain, hoping that the memory cataloguing will last a lifetime.
The CASA event was no different. I came through the main entrance to the House office building along with a large number of these immigrant advocates from all over the state. I couldn’t help but notice a number of people, when faced with the obligation to show a photo ID, pulled out a trusty “official Maryland photo identification.”
We’re plowed this ground before. The official photo ID is not a driver’s license; it’s the ID card with a photo that you can purchase at your local Motor Vehicle Administration branch office. You only have to produce evidence of your age and address. No proof of legal citizenship status is necessary to obtain the photo ID.
It seemed that the many of the people coming through the door were presenting this form of ID, versus the more typical (but harder to get) official driver’s license. Once inside, the groups had a script, an agenda of legislative advocacy.
They actively opposed any efforts to restrict the rights of immigrants, regardless of legal status. The argued for in-state tuition, ongoing healthcare services, housing assistance, job/employment help, and continued access to public education for illegal immigrants.
I found the advocates I met with to be knowledgeable, committed to their cause, and for the most part, completely and totally wrong.
The difference of opinion comes down to this. What is the taxpayer’s obligation to provide for the care of people who violated federal law when they arrive, and then continue that violation through their extended illegal stay in this country?
The immigrant advocates believe this choice justifies the extension of the full range of taxpayer services typically extended to legal residents and those with legal status granted by the appropriate federal agency.
They refer to this as a matter of human rights and suggest in their publications and handouts that anyone who disagrees is intent on denying basic human rights.
Sorry, but this kind of pandering and oversimplification just doesn’t cut it. Only the most naïve, guilt-ridden taxpayer buys the argument that you deserve access to the public trough merely because you entered the U.S. illegally and “staked a claim.”
It’s not a matter of human rights, and no amount of deception on the part of the advocates will make it so. We already have federally-enabled taxpayer pickpocketing for emergency health services and public education, two of our most expensive public services.
* * * * * * * * * *
This past week also saw our first abortion-related debate during this session. An otherwise innocuous bill to collect infant death data and report it to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was reported out of committee. The idea is that infant deaths that are caused by rare congenital diseases need to be reported, analyzed, and cataloged.
House Republicans, most, though not all, seized upon this rare chance to bring the issue of abortion to the floor. In most cases, the Democratic leadership tries to avoid bringing bills to the floor that have anything to do with the subject of abortion. The debate that ensues is divisive, personal, and creates great consternation since it cuts across the political divide in odd and unpredictable ways. The leadership hates unpredictability!
House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell (R., Calvert/ St. Mary’s) had an amendment prepared that required that all abortion procedures be documented and reported along with the infant mortality data from congenital disease deaths.
The committee chairman, Jim Hubbard (D., Prince George’s) argued that the amendment had nothing to do with the purpose of the bill. He said that the better way to do this was to introduce a stand-alone bill, and hold a separate public hearing.
Nice idea, although Delegate O’Donnell is smart enough (and been through this battle enough times before) to know that there will never be a hearing on a bill that would require abortion data collection and reporting, so his little amendment was the only way to make his point.
I sat through the committee hearing on the bill. I understood exactly what was being sought through the original bill. There are congenital diseases that need to be reported because it’s possible to track trends and undertake therapies and treatments that might stop a disease from recurring.
So, Leader O’Donnell stood on the floor of the House and made a passionate argument for the adoption of his amendment. At the conclusion of his statement, Tony said: “Mr. Speaker, we all know what this amendment is about, so instead of a protracted floor debate, I’d just ask for the body to support the amendment.” Instead of an angry response, Delegate Hubbard simply indicated that he agreed that everyone knew what this about and asked for the body to reject the amendment because it didn’t relate to the purpose of the bill.
On a different day, this abortion debate would have involved dozens of delegates on each side standing to argue aggressively, and posing and preening for the TV cameras. Not this time.
The amendment was defeated, but without the resentment and political division typical of these debates. If this happened more often, one can’t help but wonder if Annapolis might be a more productive place. We’re only half way, it’s not too late!