Hundreds of minor proposals come before a state legislature at each session. It is probably not practical for newspapers to attempt to record the roll call votes on so many measures.
However, everything that comes before a legislature is of interest to at least some portion of the citizenry. So some voters are always curious to know how their representatives voted - even on obscure bills.
The "Loose Load Bill" in the Maryland legislature is a minor bill by most standards. It would merely require truckers to cover loose loads that might otherwise fly off their trucks and cause damage to other vehicles.
However, there is much interest in this minor bill for two reasons. It appears to be such a reasonable proposal. And it has been so bitterly opposed by the trucking lobby, which would rather spend its money on food and liquor for legislators than on tarpaulins.
A few days ago, the Maryland Senate passed the "Loose Load Bill," but few details of the voting were made available. More important measures got the headlines on that day, and all we were told about the truck bill was that it won, "24 to 20."
The truth is that it squeaked through by only one vote, not four.
Three "readings" are required for passage. On the second, the tally had been 23 to 20 in favor, with four not voting, and that was good enough for a second reading. But on the final reading it needed a majority of the 47 senators, or 24 affirmative votes. It needed one more "Yea."
One of the little tricks used to befuddle voters is the practice of "taking a walk" on the final reading. A senator who doesn't vote withholds a "Yea" vote needed for passage. So a senator who wants to kill a bill without being recorded as being opposed simply strolls out of the Senate chamber as the roll call begins. And that cute strategy almost succeeded in killing the bill.
On the final vote, Montgomery County's seven senators voted 5 to 0 for the bill, with two not voting. Prince George's rank-and-file senators tied, 3 to 3, with one not voting. All five men who represent nearby Anne Arundel, Howard, Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's Counties (three Democrats and two Republicans) voted with the trucking lobby - against the bill.
Montgomery County senators James C. Clark Jr., Charles W. Gilchrist, Margaret C. Schweinhaut and C. Lawrence Wiser, all Democrats, voted for the bill. They were joined by Republican Howard A. Denis, sponsor of the measure. There were no outright "Nay" votes from Montgomery County, but Democrats Victor L. Crawford and Laurence Levitan "took a walk" and left the chamber. In the Prince George's delegation, Edward T. Conroy, Arthur Dorman and Meyer M. Emanuel Jr. voted "Yea." Peter A. Bozick, Mike Miller Jr. and Thomas P. O'Reilly voted "Nay." Tommie Broadwater Jr. did not vote. All are Democrats.
Crawford had voted "Nay" at the second reading, so his "walk" didn't diminish the "Yea" vote. Bozick hadn't voted previously, so his "Nay" was also no loss. But Broadwater and Levitan had supported the bill at the second reading. Their switch cut 23 "Yea" votes down to 21. The bill seemed doomed.
However Clark, who had previously voted against the bill, switched to a "Yea" vote when the chips were down, and two other affirmative votes were picked up from districts outside the Washington area to give the measure the 24 votes it needed to survive.
Chronologically, the vote was even more exciting. The name of the President of the Senate, Steny H. Hoyer (D-Prince George's), leads all the others on a roll call, but he refrained from voting until his 46 colleagues had finished in a tie, 23 to 20-plus-3. Then he cast the "Yea" vote that sent the measure back to the House.
If the trucking lobby's appropriation for the winning and dining of delegates proves large enough, the bill is expected to die in the House - again. We'll have to wait and see what happens there.