There's nothing unusual about a state legislature mobilizing to protect a local company from a takeover raid from outside the state. But in a strange twist, the Maryland legislature is considering protecting an outside company from a home-grown takeover offer.

The protagonists in this case are Herbert and Robert Haft, whose Dart Group Corp. empire is based in Landover. The Hafts are offering $860 million for Boston-based Stop & Shop Cos. Inc., whose Bradlees department store chain employs 5,000 people in Maryland.

With an eye on those jobs, rather than on the tax revenue generated by Dart Group and its subsidiaries, Crown Books Corp. and Trak Auto Corp., Maryland legislators are proposing measures that would make it more difficult for the local boys to take over the out-of-town company. So much for home-field advantage.

Among other things, the bills being considered by the legislature would require considerable advance notice and mandatory severance pay for employees who lose their jobs because of takeover attempts.

The Hafts say they have no intention of jeopardizing any of the Bradlees jobs. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing and through a spokesman, the Hafts have said they would leave Bradlees intact if they succeed in taking over Stop & Shop.

But they're having trouble getting people to believe them -- particularly in the Maryland legislature. Goaded by union leaders, some legislators believe the Hafts do not want to buy Stop & Shop. Instead, they point to takeover attempts by the family that have failed -- but have netted the Hafts millions of dollars in profits from stock deals, while leading to restructurings and layoffs at the target companies.

It seems the Hafts have a bit of an image problem.

"The Haft family represents one of the worst kind of pirates," said Delegate Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat. "They are 18th-century buccaneers ... who plunder {companies}, then throw thousands of workers out of a job, making them literally walk the plank."

Such Haft-bashing shows the family is paying for its string of unsuccessful but profitable takeover attempts. The most notorious of these was the family's bid for Safeway Stores Inc. two years ago, which Safeway escaped through a leveraged buyout that led to the layoff of 8,000 employees.

The Hafts -- who pocketed $140 million in the Safeway deal -- didn't lay off those people. Indeed, the Hafts have said they would have managed Safeway differently had they won the takeover bid. But the family has taken the rap for what happened at Safeway, as well as at their other targets.

"The Hafts took down the largest supermarket operation in the world," said Thomas McNutt, president of the United Food & Commerical Workers Local 400, which represents Safeway and Bradlee employees in the Washington metropolitan area and is pushing the Maryland legislature to block the Hafts' attempt to buy Stop & Shop.

"What we're witnessing is a continuation of greed over need," McNutt said in a news conference in Annapolis last week.

Oddly, the biggest fear of the union -- which is involved in contract negotiations with Bradlees -- may not be what would happen if the Hafts take over, but what Stop & Shop might do to avoid a buyout. According to some scenarios, Stop & Shop might attempt to deter the Hafts by selling or closing Bradlees stores.

This is one of Franchot's fears. He believes the Hafts' offer for Stop & Shop is a bluff, designed to win the family a profit, regardless of what happens to the target company or its employees. "They are not interested in buying the company," Franchot said last week. "By going after Stop & Shop, they will force the company into a leveraged buyout and Stop & Shop will have to liquidate {Bradlees}."

Such reasoning could cause the Maryland legislature to act as hastily as the Minnesota legislature did last summer, when the Hafts tried to buy Minneapolis department store giant Dayton-Hudson Corp. The Minnesota lawmakers rammed through legislation making hostile takeovers of state companies much more difficult -- effectively frustrating the Hafts' attempts.

The Hafts declined to get involved in the political process in Minnesota, and a spokesman for the family says the Hafts are not trying to lobby Maryland legislators. But if the Hafts truly want to take over Stop & Shop, they have to move quickly to improve their image in their own back yard and convince the Maryland lawmakers that the family's intentions are honorable.

Mark Potts is the editor of Washington Business. Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr. is taking the day off.