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March 22, 2004

General Assembly Journal 2004 - Part 11

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

March 16, 2004

I had my first taste of the affects of a lack of communication last week. I had been appointed to serve on a Task Force dealing with state agency procurement oversight. The charge of the Task Force was to examine efficiencies that might be achieved through legislation.

The Task Force produced a report, and every member of the General Assembly received a copy. I had the honor of serving with several high level members of the Ehrlich administration, including Chip DiPaula (Secretary of Budget and Management), Boyd Rutherford (Secretary of General Services), and Jim Ports (Assistant Secretary of Transportation).

Assuming that all of the members of the Task Force were supportive of the major recommendations, I drafted a bill to implement several of the recommendations. Just to be safe, I provided a draft of the bill to both General Services and Budget and Management. I wanted to hear from the Administration before beginning the hearing process.

My bill hearing was scheduled for Friday, August 12. At 9:30 a.m. that morning, I received a call from an employee of the Department of General Services indicating that the Administration, by way of written testimony, would be opposing my bill.

When asked why, the employee indicated that the Administration feared the creation of additional bureaucracy. Notwithstanding the fact that I would have readily amended my bill to be acceptable to the Administration, I was offended that the notice of intent to oppose my bill came just before the bill hearing.

A long-serving member, George Owings (D., Calvert Co.), who also happens to serve as the Majority Whip, offered some sage advice. He told me that this process is similar to advice given by Vito Corleone (The Godfather) to his son, Michael. Don Corleone told Michael that it was always business, not personal.

George told me that he learned a long time ago that there was no bill that he submitted that he felt so strongly about that he couldn't walk away from it. I hate to admit that ego plays a part in this, but it absolutely does.

The legislative process works because it allows for the expression of differing points of view, for open and honest debate, and for amendments that address unanticipated circumstances. Where the wheels fall off the wagon is when last minute objections and surprises pop up.

My De Facto Custody bill ran into some serious and unanticipated concerns about a week prior to the bill hearing in the Senate. Fortunately, the opponents and proponents were able to communicate in order to hammer out some acceptable amendments.

Unfortunately, another good bill I have in won't be so fortunate. A bill I submitted based on testimony about abuse allegations has some serious objections, including concerns from the Administration. I had less than one day's notice of the objections, and some of the objections are fairly complex. I have decided to pull the bill, and spend some time this summer trying to work with the Department of Human Resources.

All of this says nothing about the shortcomings in the communication between legislators and the state agency heads. I would have expected to hear from either the agencies, or the Governor's staff, well in advance of the bill hearing if they were going to oppose my bill.

Opportunities to communicate these concerns are not hard to come by. We see one another every day, some times several times a day. I can think of no reason, other than a lack of interest that someone from the Administration couldn't make a telephone call.

I try to carry as much water for the Administration as possible. I'm not crazy about voting for slot machines, but the Governor will get my vote. I'm also not too happy about the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, but again, Governor Ehrlich will get a vote.

In fact, I can't envision a single major policy initiative wherein the Ehrlich Administration can't count on this delegate's support. So we've established that I'm not an outsider, not some radical thinker.

If I had done a sneak attack on the Administration, I could understand the lack of notice and last minute nature of the communications. On the procurement bill, I gave weeks of notice, following months of work on a task force.

On an unrelated note, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee killed the "Move Over" bill. While I don't have a final answer as to why, I suspect it had something to do with a technical concern over the mandated reduction in vehicle speed.

The Move Over bill is a good one. The text of the bill says that when a driver approaches an emergency services operation on the shoulder of a divided highway (US 340/Rt 15), Maryland law would require the driver to move to the left lane and reduce speed whenever it is safe to do so.

In my time in public service in Frederick County, I'm familiar with several accidents and even more close calls where law enforcement and fire/rescue personnel were placed at great risk on the shoulder of a highway. In the last two days, the National Fallen Firefighters announced another Line of Duty Death, this time a firefighter killed when struck by a passing car while working an accident.

I'm sorry the bill didn't make it this year, but I'll re-double my efforts to understand why and will work to make it better next year.

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