The conference room was crowded Monday night as the members of the Montgomery County delegation pulled up their chairs and prepared to make decisions on 24 more of the 200 or so local bills proposed for consideration at the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Among this potpourri of people milling around, the 19 county delegates represented almost every group that is perennially involved with the doings of the delegation: the Board of Education and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the Taxpayers' Federation and the County Council.
Both the diversity of the groups and the sheer number of people crowded into the county council's conference room gave witness to the two essential facts of life confronting the county delegation this year.
In the first place, it is an election year. The pressures applied by interest groups are likely to be greater, the lobbyists more insistent. The issues will be debated with jore flamboyance, as legislators vie for attention. And every legislator will be making a special effort to be responsible to his constituents' concerns.
At the same time, this election year is coinciding with a period of great local frustration.Dissatisfaction with the local tax burden, dissatisfaction with county school policies and dissatisfaction with county spending all seem to have built up over the past couple of years into something approaching a quiet rage.
"There's a much higher level of consciousness (among Montgomery's delegates) about the '78 election than about past elections and it's showing itself much earlier," said Don Robertson, the Wheaton Democrat who heads the all-Democratic delegation.
The most tangible result of the pent-up local feelings is the sheer volume of legislation which the delegation must make decisions on this year. It's not that most of the issues are new. The structure of the WSSC is a perennial concern, as are the level of education spending, the policies of the Board of Education and the local tax burden.
It's just that this year there are more bills dealing with these concerns. And education-related questions are particularly prevalent.
For instance, thus far in its deliberations, the delgation has:
approved a bill allowing substitute teachers in the county's schools to bargain collectively;
rejected an anti-busing bill proposed by board of education member Marian Greenblatt that would have required the school board to assign pupils to the elementary school closest to their home;
rejected a bill requested by the Maryland Federation of Catholic Laity that would have lifted the prohibitions against prayer in schools.
As a matter of long-standing practice in Maryland, the fate of bills which pertain specifically to one county is determined solely by that county's legislative delegation; the rest of the House goes along with the wishes of the local legislators.
"We've really had a bunch of bills that have to do with the board of education," said Delegate Helen Koss, "I think it's abnormal to have this many things spawned by that . . . We're be forced to look at the board's function, even though I believe . . . we shouldn't get into that."
One of the reasons delegate Joe Ownes believes that there is so much interest in educational issues is that "there are a lot more taxes, so there's a lot more attention to the area where most of the taxes are spent."
"What's brought this to a head," Owens added, "is essentially the tax bite. Plus the budget is up when every year when the number of kids in the school is going down."
Tax concerns, however, are not limited to education spending. at Monday night's session, the delegation rejected a bill requested by the county taxpayers' league tht would have set a statutory limit on property and income tax rates.
And a favorite Montgomery County issue, zoning, proved too hot for the delegation to handle at that same Monday night meeting.
Del. Arthur Drea had earlier introduced a bill to change the circumstances under which rezonings could be granted. The measure was considered for several weeks almost unnoticed by the outside world, until this past week.
Then the volume of letters from outraged citizens started pouring in, expressing deep concern that the measure would allow developers more leeway to increase the density of certain areas. "We must have gotten 200 letters on that in the last week," said delegation head Robertson - including the last-minute rush of mail in opposition.
Monday night, Drea withdrew his bill, calling for the establishment of a committee to study the matter. "I think it's wrong to withdraw this - we're giving in to a vocal and articulate minorit opposed to any zoning change," grumbled Del. Bob Jacques. But the motion was nevertheless shunted aside.
"Everything seems to have delegates a little jumpier than they have been in the past," said one delegation member who asked to remain anonymous. "And it hasn't just been this year. Over a long period of time, people have been more concerned with 1978 than I would expect."