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Advertise on the Tentacle

February 2, 2004

General Assembly Journal – Part 4

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

January 26, 2004

So, how does an idea become law? I thought it might be interesting to talk about the legislative initiatives I'm working on this year.

They run the gamut, from suggestions from constituents to requests that originate from folks who work within state government.

First, I am working on two bills that came from meetings with constituents. I met with a wonderful woman named Pat Owens last summer. Pat and I have some history, dating back to my days in Brunswick. When I served on the county TransIT services advisory council, Pat worked for TransIT. Since then, she has served with distinction on the County Department of Social Services Board of Directors.

If her name sounds familiar, her heartbreaking story was told in the Frederick News Post last year. Pat, through a horrifying personal circumstance, has become a vocal advocate for De Facto Custodial care for children.

I'm working a bill that will bring Maryland law in line with federal law and common sense. In my opinion, a relative caregiver who steps forward to provide custodial care for a child should be given preference over a stranger. Obviously, that relative caregiver should meet ALL of the criteria established to protect the child.

Another bill idea came from Julia Wesolek, a friend I met through the Republican Club of Frederick County. The U.S. Congress has adopted the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, and Maryland needs to change present law to fully implement the federal Act.

The affect of this bill will be to ensure that while children's rights are being protected, we also protect parents and families' rights of notice and due process. We need to acknowledge, through language in law, that some accusations made against parents are not legitimate, and provide some protections against overly aggressive governmental intervention.

The rest of my legislative work relates to state procurement efficiency. Due to the constitutional requirement that each bill have a single clear title and purpose, I may have to introduce as many as 15 different pieces of legislation.

I wouldn't bore you with the details, but a few highlights are:

- A "whistleblower" procedure that protects against false accusations; - Eliminating duplicate advertising requirements that artificially increase the cost of the goods or service being purchased; - Allowing state agencies to consider unsolicited proposals; - Allowing state procuring agencies to meet with potential bidders in order to learn about new technologies and procedures; and - A major change to the State Board of Contract Appeals, requiring the board to be made up of lawyers who practice procurement law; extend their terms from 5 to 10 years; raising the limits on small claims cases; and encouraging the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution whenever possible.

Here's how it works. We develop an idea for a proposed bill. We meet with a bill drafter, most of whom are lawyers who work in the Department of Legislative Services.

The bill drafter takes your idea, examines current law to determine which section of the Annotated Code is impacted and how it will change. They then write the language in bill format, and send it back to the legislator.

The legislator reviews the draft bill, making sure that the intent wasn't changed when the drafter adapted the idea to the language in the Code. A meeting (or two or three) between the legislator and the drafter results in the final bill draft.

The legislator then takes the draft bill, along with four copies, to the Clerk's office to pick up a "blue back." The blue back is the cover sheet, and it is distinguished by the 141 delegates’ names and a space for each to initial.

This is where strategy comes into play. You can get as many (or as few) co-sponsors as you want. Obviously, the more sponsors, the better your chance for success, but that isn't always true. Many legislators spend a great deal of time strategizing the number of co-sponsors, probably too much.

Once you have the co-sponsors you think appropriate, it’s back to the Clerk's office to "drop the bill into the hopper." Lest you think there is a tub or special chamber, this is actually fancy legislative speak for standing at a counter while the someone in the Clerk's office checks your bill for compliance with the rules for introduction.

This process is repeated in the Senate, as almost every bill is cross-filed in the other Chamber.

After dropping the bills, the Clerk places them on a reading calendar to be referred to a Standing Committee. As I mentioned last year, the bills are scheduled for hearings by the Standing Committees. The Standing Committees will hold a hearing on the bill, and will send it to the Floor for a second and third reading.

And so it goes!

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