Del. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery) collided with the Maryland trucking lobby today and proved once again that, like the Volkswagen that gets hit by a Mack truck, it doesn't matter who is right because the truck is always going to win.
In this case, the Volkswagen Ruben's bill that would have required inspections of used trucks by the state before they can be resold. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 54 to 68 after the longest, most intense floor debate in the House since the legislature began two months ago.
The defeat, Ruben declared, was "a disgrace." But to knowing Maryland legislators, the result also was predictable because the trucking lobby traditionally is one of the most formidable in Annapolis.
Del. Charles A. Docter (D. Montgomery) was booed by several of his colleagues when he denounced as "a bunch of hogwash" some criticism of the bill.
The proposal, endorse by the state's Motor Vehicle Administration, would have subjected all trucks to the same sort of inspection already required of automobiles and pickup trucks that are resold in the state.
Ruben's bill was the first of 27 affecting the trucking industry to reach a floor vote in this year's session. Eight other bills were killed after committee hearings.
Ruben said the bill was prompted by and accident on Feb. 18, 1976, in which a tractor-trailer crashed into Washington and killed five persons, apartment building in Southeast including the driver, a passenger, and three occupants of the building.
The truck had been sold in Maryland just eight days earlier," Ruben said. An investigation by the Federal Highway Administration revealed that only two of the 10-wheel assemblies on the vehicle had effective brakes. Investigators learned that the truck, which had been driven about 300,000 miles, had been involved in a previous crash in 1973, after which Maryland State Police listed it as a total loss, Ruben said.
To demonstrate the need for her bill, Ruben had projected on a large screen on the House floor a picture of the wreckage and chart showing that all states surrounding Maryland require inspections of trucks either annually or at the time of resale, or both. Maryland requires neither.
As a result, Ruben said, Maryland has become "a dumping ground" for trucks that cannot pass inspection in other states.
Del. George J. Santonis (D-Baltimore), who is under indictment in U.S. Court in Baltimore, scoffed at the chart, suggesting that "Those other states, like in West Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, devised the law primarily to inspect "pickup trucks" rather than large trucks.
De.Andrew J.Burns (D-Baltimore) pointed out that the accident Ruben referred to occurred in the District of Columbia and wanted to know if she had any evidence similar crashes ahd occurred in Maryland. She responded that she had been unable to get such statistics.
During debate on the bill in the House Economic Affairs Committee, Albert J. Mascaro, the highly effective lobbysist for the Maryland Motor Truck Association, argued that the bill would be too costly to truckers and that it would be time-consuming because there are so few garages capable of making the inspections.
Today, opponents of the bill used Mascaro's arguments on the floor.
Del. Bernard W. Donovan (D-Prince George's), the assistant majority leader of the House, said the maeaure would "create a serious economic problem for people who operate trucks." Also, because buying and selling used tractor-trailers that can cost up to $45,000 is "a highly specilized business," buyers are "very sharp" and don't need the protection of a state inspection, Donovan said.
Enforcing it would also "impose a burden on the State Police," Donovan said. Ruben added that the police had taken no position on the propsal.
Another opponent, Del. George E. Heffner (D-Baltimore County) when applied to automobiles, but "you can't inspect a Mack truck."
Heffner said he had checked with several garages - and he called out their telephone numbers so disbelievers could verify it - and none could inspect large trucks. Heffner said the few garages that have the capability estimated an inspection could cost $400-$500 and take six to eight hours to complete.
At one point in his speech, while other delegates obviously were feeding information to Heffner, House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe broke in to comment, "House members will please refrain from coaching."
"We need trucks on the road," concluded Heffner.
Several delegates who voted against the bill went out of their way to say their oppositon was not related to lobbying activity.
"I give you my solemn word that no one from the trucking industry ever approached me," said Donovan.
Rubben said the defeat was "all pre-planned." She said one delegate told her two weeks ago, "Your bill is dead."