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November 17, 2003

General Assembly Journal – Part 19 - An Interim Update

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It's been several months since I've written on the adventures of life as a state delegate. That may be due, at least in part, to the fact that life during the interim is FAR from adventurous.

That isn't to say that there is nothing to report. My last report dealt with the changes in the Republican Caucus, and the briefings scheduled by the Health and Government Operations Committee.

Regarding the Republican Caucus, if you thought the leadership issue was settled by the vote taken in the early summer, you'd be wrong. The leader, George Edwards (R., Garrett) and whip, Tony O' Donnell (R., Southern MD), took office in June following a contested election.

They did what newly elected officials always do. They put a team in place, and started strategizing about the future. No thought was given to the fact that they might be denied the chance to serve during the 2004 Session.

As newly appointed chairman of the Rules Committee, your humble correspondent had developed draft language for the caucus rules to insure that the leader and whip would be given the chance to serve a full session.

One of the logistical issues they had to resolve was the caucus office location. Working with Barbara Oakes, the House Administrator extraordinaire, Mr. Edwards had his Western Maryland office suite modified to accommodate the additional staff for the caucus.

Almost as soon as the office modifications were complete, several members of the caucus objected to the provision of my rules change that would allow George and Tony to serve. They felt that we should hold another election at the start of the ’04 Session. At the October Caucus meeting, my Rules change survived partially intact. Delegates Edwards and O'Donnell will be able to lead the caucus in the upcoming session.

As a member of the caucus leadership team, I have been able to participate in some very interesting strategy sessions.

I'd love to tell you more about how our caucus is planning to deal with the issues and challenges in the upcoming session, but too many of my dear Democrat friends read this great site. One thing I can tell you is that we will be much more active and effective in using the established floor procedures to make our voices heard.

Beyond caucus business, I have spent a good deal of time in Annapolis on committee and task force business. My committee, and the three subcommittees I serve on, has held public hearings and briefings on a variety of topics.

One big surprise is the lack of attendance by fellow committee members. One tour of health facilities and organizations, that included stops in Carroll, Frederick, and Washington counties, had five out of 24 committee members in attendance. Fortunately, the staff went, so there will be some continuity.

Back in the district, the order of the day has been attending breakfast, lunch, and dinners with constituent groups and advocacy groups. These are wonderful opportunities to discuss technical issues such as agriculture, economic development, and health care in both formal and informal settings.

The formal settings are when we're asked to address a room full of folks, most of whom come to these things with a list of concerns. I actually enjoy the question and answer aspect of these forums, since you can't predict what anyone will ask. I revel in the abject fear some of my colleagues suffer when facing a less than welcoming audience. The informal settings are when we're eating, and I try to sit with folks I don't know. This is a great way to make new friends, and I've found that people will ask you things one-on-one that they'd never ask in a group setting.

They used to call this the “rubber chicken circuit,” but trust me when I tell you that Ruritan Clubs and fire companies can put some of fine dining establishments to shame in the quality department.

Looks like the fun (if you think being out several nights a week is fun) stuff is about to turn ugly. The Frederick county commissioner's legislative package is about to be turned over to the delegation.

A couple of the issues look to be controversial. We've been talking about a hotel/motel tax for a few years; this year we have a proposal on the table supported by the hospitality industry. It appears that at least one commissioner and one delegate are angry that their version isn't in the final package. They both sound like they'll try to scuttle the current version.

The other big question mark surrounds the concept of increasing revenue to fund the school construction capital program. Several proposals await the disposition of the delegation. I can't even predict the commissioner's intent at this point. I know that I have delegation colleagues who will object to any proposed increase, based on campaign commitments they've made to reject all "tax" increases.

So, this must mean that summer is over! My first interim has come to a close, and now the pressure starts to build for January 14, 2004. Stay tuned!

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