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March 8, 2004

General Assembly Journal 2004 - Part 9

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

No more complaints about long days, I promise. I re-read last week's journal, and didn't like reading my own complaints about spending long days in Annapolis.

Seems silly for me to complain about long days spent in hearings for two reasons. First, I spent some awfully long days on the third floor of Winchester Hall in public hearings. Second, and more importantly, I asked for this job.

I was able to escape Annapolis Wednesday night. I missed a committee dinner, but I've already talked about these opportunities to eat and be lobbied. I got out of here around 5 P.M., and got home about an hour and a half later.

Amazing how one night back in Brunswick helps put all of this stuff in some larger sense of perspective. At home, no one lobbies me. No one laughs if my joke isn't funny. No one tells me how insightful my remarks are.

In Brunswick, I'm not Delegate Weldon. I'm Dad, husband/partner, and chew toy for Gracie, our 15-week-old Black Lab/Rottweiler.

Thursday's Floor action included a bill on third reader from Del. Anthony Brown (D., Prince Georges) to make it easier to expunge criminal records. While walking over to the State House this morning, I encountered several Republican members.

If you recall last year's journals, first reading is when the bill gets introduced and sent to committee, second reading is the chance to amend a bill, and third reading is the floor debate and final vote of the House.

I happened to ask these members what they thought of Delegate Brown's bill. I was a little surprised that they didn't seem too concerned, and one even said he would look the bill up before the vote came around.

Once we were seated, and the work of the House was underway, our Minority Whip, Tony O'Donnell, called me on my Floor telephone. He was also concerned that some GOP members might have missed the implications of that bill, so he suggested I stand on third reader and ask the committee chairman to explain the purpose of the bill.

This is tricky stuff. The members are comfortable with the Floor procedure sailing smoothly along, carefully avoiding the appearance of dissent.

A member, especially a freshman member, standing to ask a committee chairman to explain a bill is unusual. My throat was a little dry, but after the Clerk read the bill title, and the Speaker asked if there was any debate, I grabbed my microphone and stood up.

After being recognized, I asked my question. The chairman did his duty and carefully explained the purpose of the bill. To give bipartisan credit where due, Delegate Brown did an excellent job of explaining his bill. So good in fact that the Republicans who hadn't been paying attention heard that this bill would allow for a convicted criminal to get certain criminal acts expunged more easily from his or her record.

Mission accomplished! The red votes popped up all over the big board when the vote finally came. Several Democrats even came over. The bill passed anyway, as so many bad bills do.

Later in the day, my committee heard one of the more controversial items on our bill hearing calendar. Several delegates from Montgomery County had introduced a bill to allow domestic partners expanded rights in the area of medical decision-making.

Medical decision-making refers to the authority of a partner, previously reserved for spouses, to communicate with medical personnel and to gain admittance to hospital and treatment center facilities.

This particular hearing took on an interesting twist when Del. Anne Kaiser (D., Montgomery) used the hearing to inform everyone of her lesbian sexual orientation. It's possible that the announcement might even have overshadowed the event.

Here's the scenario: A gay couple, involved in a committed, long-term relationship, find themselves in a situation where one of the partners has a serious illness or accident. Depending on the hospital visitor procedures, it is entirely possible that the other partner might be denied access to the treatment facility.

Imagine an end-of-life situation, where once again the partner is denied bedside access to say goodbye. Most people I know, even those who fundamentally disagree with the gay lifestyle, can understand this scenario.

Unfortunately, the bill goes way beyond addressing those situations. My gay friends will allege discriminatory practice if I find any problem with the bill, but the next paragraph, lifted directly from the bill, makes my point.


The capital letters are not to get your attention, just how addition text in a bill is distinguished from existing text. You can see from the language above that the bill goes beyond addressing the immediate concern, which according to the advocates was to give access and authorization to medical decision-making.

Evil, insensitive, and uncaring Republicans are working on an amendment to the bill to give domestic partners exactly what they're asking for. We don't have to take the California route and violate state law to make a point. As long as there is no other hidden agenda at work here, I can think of no reason why two people who love each other should be denied the opportunity to be together during times of medical emergency or at the end of life.

Just another example of how public policy makers can rise above their own filters, biases, and life experience to fashion reasonable, beneficial compromises. Amazing what can be done in the course of a long, long, long day!

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