"Hoyer for Governor" stickers were plastered all over bumpers on the cars parked in front of the Calvert Mansion last week as a majority of Prince George's delegates to the Maryland General Assembly huddled inside over proposed legislation for the upcoming January session.
Depending on when you counted, anywhere from 10 to 17 delegates sat under the gilt-edged chandelier in a former drawing room and listened as committee chairmen presented reports on several local bills.People wandered in and out, chatted in the ante-room, drank coffee.
It was one of two sessions of the whole delegation held this fall in Riverdale where the three delegation subcommittees - bi-county, county affairs and law enforcement and alcoholic beverages - meet to decide which bills will be designated "local legislation" in the next session at Annapolis. These "local" bills are usually acted on and ratified by the whole General Assembly as a courtesy to the sponsoring delegation - so once they receive the approval of a majority of Prince George's legislators, they are almost sure bets for enactment by the House.
Forty-one bills were brought forward from committee, and of that, 19 were disapproved by the delegates present and will be dropped from further consideration. Nine were approved and 13 were sent back to be voted on again as special orders, as referrals to committee or moved into limbo - an expression used to indicate legislation that did not receive 13 votes up or down and will be reviewed at the next delegates' session Jan. 4.
The limbo status became the resting place for some of the most contorversial bills, and prompted some of the day's most interesting remarks.
A bill to allow the state's attorney to offer raises to members of his staff provoked the greatest hue and cry. Del. Craig Knoll was fervently opposed to the idea.
"Actors, football players, attorneys and physicians are overpaid in this society - they certainly are paid more than Ph.D.'s, " he said.
Del. Frank Pesci, who happens to be a Ph.D. and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, agreed. "You're asking me to give those two clods (prosecuting attorneys) a raise, just because they passed the bar?" Pesci said. He said he had a special bone to pick with the state's attorneys office because of a case involving a member of his family. "I have the highest respect for Arthur Marshall (the state's attorney) but I don't know where he drags up these people," Pesci said.
Several attorneys who are also delegates came to the defense of the prosecutor's office.
"The raise is necessary to keep good prosecuting attorneys in the system," said Del. Leo Green.
But the bill that would allow raises of 4 to 7 per cent remained in limbo - too much dissension, but not enough to kill the proposal.
Another bill to provide raises for commissioners and the administrators of the liquor board finally went the same way after Green pointed out to delegation members that the positions were "patronage and 100 people will get them for political reasons. There is no way we can do this. This will raise their pay by 30 per cent and we can't even raise the attorneys' 4 per cent? We are being penny wise and pound foolish."
An involved discussion centered around a bill that would require all applicants for liquor licenses to submit proof of U.S. citizenship. Del. Andrew Mothershead, chairman of the law enforcement/alcholic beverage subcommittee, claimed that when "inspectors walk in the front door (of a restaurant or bar), the kitchens are vacated. The people go out the windows because they are afraid it's immigration. We are giving jobs to alliens."
The bill prompted Pesci to reminisce about his family coming "across in steerage." Del. Jack Garrity spoke "as one whose family came to work on the railroads from the old country" and another member remarked "just think about what Nat's family (Del. Nathaniel Exum, a black member of the delegation) went through."
That bill, too, went into limbo.
The delegates were trying to finish in time to go home and see the Redskins play St. Louis.
The game isn't for another two hours" said Pesci, as the clock moved toward 1:30 p.m. The delegation plans one more committee-of-the-whole meeting on Jan. 4 before the state legislative session begins on Jan. 11.