After years of controversy over leghold traps, which opponents say mutilate and torture the animals they ensnare, the Maryland Senate today passed a drastically watered-down version of the annual bill to ban the steel-jawed traps in the state.
If approved by the House of Delegates, the bill would make those who use leghold traps in Montgomery County, Baltimore, and Baltimore County subject to fines of up to $500 and six-months imprisonment. The bill would not, however, apply to farmers -- the most frequent users of traps - or to the state Department of Natural Resources, which uses them in a wildlife management program.
The Senate also passed a bill to provide state-supplied equity capital to small businesses that lack the cash to fulfill contracts they have been awarded, despite one senator's objection to what he called "sniveling belly-aching that makes you sick" on the part of the bill's sponsor.
The leghold trap bill, which passed by a vote of 31 to 7, orginally included Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Prince George's counties in its ban on the steel-jawed traps. Those counties were eliminated from the bill after senators from those areas argued that a ban on the traps might leave farmers' fields open to the ravages of small animals the traps are designed to catch.
Opponents of the traps have argued for years that their use is needlessly cruel because they do not immediately kill the animals they catch, but often leave them crippled or victims of slow and painful deaths.
Passage of the bill finance small businesses represents an unexpected success for Sen. Robert L. Douglass (D-Baltimore), a black businessman who has submitted several proposals to involve the state in the nurturing of minority businesses.
The bill's passage was preceded by an acrimonious debate between Douglass and Sen. Edward T. Mason (R-Allegany), who said there is "frankly no merit or need for this program" because other state and federal programs could serve the same ends.
After Douglass, his voice rising to a shout, took the unusualy step of criticizing Mason's good faith in objecting to the bill, Mason startled the Senate with an angry reply.
"I get a little sick and tired of sitting here, year after year, listening to a bunch of cry-babies," he said in reference to legislators who regularly appeal to the state for help for disadvantaged groups.
"I get damn sick and tired of listening to sniveling bellyaching that makes you sick," he added, saying he had started his own restaurant business by "borrowing a few hundred here and there, and working 16 hours a day."
The bill passed, 25 to 17, with just one vote more than the minimum needed for approval.
In other action, the Senate passed 29 to 10 and sent to the House a bill that would prevent the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the water and sewer agency for Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, from condemning land that is not in either county.
The WSCC has announced plans to dam the Tridelphia Reservoir in Howard County to obtain extra water for the residents of Prince George's and Montgomery, a plan that angered Howard County residents whose homes might have been flooded by the dam project.