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February 27, 2003

General Assembly Journal - Part 10

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

A Little Controversy & The Big Snow

Iíve tried to keep you informed as to process and function. Iíve mentioned a little about controversy, at least as it related to my official duties. Two things happened this past week (February 10-18) that I thought you should know.

First, I attended a hearing of the Subcommittee on Public Safety of the Appropriations Committee. The subcommittee had a hearing scheduled on the budget dealing with emergency communications and the State Police Air Unit (the helicopters).

I saw two benefits in attending the hearing. First, we have one of these air units stationed in Frederick County, at the airport. I have always been impressed by the effectiveness of the service, and itís importance to the residents of rural Maryland.

In a trauma emergency, the rule of thumb is that a person has approximately one (1) hour to obtain the services of a trauma center, often called the "golden hour". Out in Frederick County, weíre far enough from a Level One trauma center that weíd never make the golden hour without the services of Trooper 3, the MSP Air Unit.

During this subcommittee hearing, several people were bemoaning the budget, and looking at ways to save money while maintaining required services. One of my Health and Government Operations Committee members, Dan Morhaim (D., Baltimore Co.), asked the director and commander of the MSP Air Division if it wouldnít be possible to reduce help operations by a helicopter or two in order to spend more money on public health issues in Baltimore City. He specifically mentioned the oral cancer rate as a major concern.

Think about this, my friends. Here we have a respected member of the Maryland House of Delegates (a medical doctor, no less) suggesting that the health and welfare of Baltimore residents is a higher priority than the lives of rural Marylanders. This isnít just a public policy debate. This is a matter of survival. I have friends who would have died in transit to the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore had it not been for the services of the MSP Air Unit.

This is indicative of the type of issue that I came down here to fight. I am in no way suggesting that any life in Maryland is more valuable than any other. In fact, I think public safety concerns are a top priority.

This is exactly why, even though Iíll never use them myself, Iím willing to vote for slot machines at Maryland horse racing venues. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not agree, but some of them would willingly reduce funding to support the public safety of rural Maryland to enhance the safety of their constituents. Iíd rather bite the bullet and support a revenue source to increase our funding of these priorities statewide.

The next day, our Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing on statewide procurement issues. The purpose of the hearing was to familiarize the committee with how the state government procures goods and services. We had an expert panel from the agencies that do most of the purchasing, including General Services and Transportation. Weíre talking about BILLIONS of dollars in purchases, in every category you could possibly imagine.

Instead of probing the source selection process, or examining the sealed bidding methodology, the majority of the discussion with these experts dealt with the effectiveness of the stateís minority set-aside programs. We spent considerable time listening to a few committee members grill procurement experts on how statistics are tracked regarding which minority groups get the most contracts, and how we can do more to provide additional opportunities for minority groups interested in participating in the state system.

At no point did we seek to understand how these same set-aside programs affect the purchasing staff or how much we add to the cost of goods and services. I am not suggesting that we should eliminate set-asides. I do wonder, though, about how effective these programs are at meeting goals. I wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze. I wonder if weíll ever get to the point that we can procure materials and professional services without ANY regard to race, sex, orientation, or any other question other than can you do the job for the best price in the shortest time.

I certainly hope this might happen in my lifetime, or at least the lifetime of my children. Racism and disrespect based on lifestyle, sex, ethnic origin, or religion is wrong. Reverse racism and favoritism without regard to qualification isnít much better.

The Big Snow - February 17

Iím writing this while stuck in a hotel room in Annapolis. Iíd much rather be stuck in Brunswick. I heard the weather forecast on Saturday and got worried that I might not be able to make it back to Annapolis on Sunday night or Monday morning. I wasnít sure what the policy was regarding snow and the House of Delegates, so I erred on the side of caution and came back on Saturday before the snow.

Imagine my surprise when I called the Speakerís office this morning and heard a recording that said the House would not meet on Monday due to weather. Weíve had 22 inches of snow, a little less than Frederick County. That 22 inches of snow has essentially shut down our State Capitol, making roads impassable, and closing stores and restaurants.

My hotel looks right down on Route 50/301, and the usual flow of traffic is steady and non-stop. It looks like weíre in a post-apocalyptic time, with no cars for several minute stretches.

Iím a little disappointed because I was scheduled to give the opening prayer tonight before session. We were scheduled to celebrate Lincolnís birthday, and I was going to give the invocation and another Republican was going to give a Lincoln-themed speech. Hopefully, it will be re-scheduled. Whether it is or not, I thought Iíd share it with you. What follows is the exact text of my invocation. It reflects who I am and what I believe.

Good Evening. Tonight we gather in this special place to fulfill our stewardship responsibility of our friends and neighbors. We also take time tonight to reflect on the life and accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln. Before our invocation, I wanted to share one short quote from President Lincoln on the subject of political humility. In a speech to the 166th Ohio Regiment in August of 1864, Lincoln said: " I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my fatherís child has."

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for the blessings that fill our lives. We thank you for the lessons of history that teach us to respect our heritage, our differences, and our common purpose. We thank you for the opportunity to add to that glorious history through our service in this sacred Assembly. We humbly ask for your guidance as we work. We ask that your loving hand guide our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions. Please help us to listen more than speak, to learn more than teach, and to love more than hate. Bless us with your love, and grant us the humility and humanity to honor our forefathers as together we lead Maryland toward a brighter future. AMEN.

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