Around the statehouse, they are known as perennials. They are the stubborn little bills that are swiftly suffocated each session, only to pop up again the next year with a new name, perhaps a new sponsor, and often the same scant chances of success.
One would ban animal leg traps and another would abolish Maryland's censor board. One would require that a tarpaulin cover losse truckloads of stone or gravel, another would eliminate the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets.
By themselves, many of them would attract little attention in Annapolis, however worthy. So their sponsors and allies descend on legislative committee rooms prepared to put on a show, complete with props: steel-jawed animal traps with vicious-looking teeth folders of obscene pictures, or motorcycle helmets that they pound periodically with hammers.
Reporters look forward to them as if they were vaudeville shows. The colorful, craggy-faced fur trappers with their folksy jokes are among the most popular performers along with the motorcyclists and the fox hunters.
Few can outdraw Mary Avara, however. Nobody can really pinpoint when this strident, pious woman from Baltimore first gathered together a few blue movie stills and went to Annapolis to fight against the annual unsuccessful bill to abolish of Maryland's Motion Picture Censor Board. The abolition bills have been coming in for about a decade now, and Avara's annual appearance have become known as the "Mary Avara Show."
Actually, connoisseurs of this particular perennial said that the feisty, 24-year member of the board that screens all moveies to be shown in Maryland awas a little off stride this year before the Senate's Judicial Proceeding Committee.
Avara broke through own nervousness often enough to deliver some classic, emotion-laden prose, the kind that has become her trademark. "I don't know about you, Senators," she began, scanning the slightly bored committee members, and raising her voice close to yell level.
"I don't know about you, but I don't go to parties where everybody strips and puts whipped cream all over each other . . . They took prayer out of schools and put sex and dope in and now they put things like this on the screen . . . For $4,500 I'm a sick woman for trying to hold a job like this."
There is something about perennials that makes most legislators want to get on to the next thing. These bills carry with them an aura of futility that can wear down even the measure's most fervid legislative proponent - not to mention his languid, disinterested colleagues.
The bill to abolish the censor board has been introduced nine different times, bin nine different legislators since 1965.
A legislator eventually gets tired of nurturing legislation that is born to die, explained state Sen. Harry J. McGurik (D-Baltimore). "A lot of the perennials are introduced by legislators who were requested by some friend or organization," McGuirk said.
"Usually they try to vary the bill a little bit from year to year. Then, after four or five years, they stop," he said.
The bill to ban the leg traps for instance, may not make an appearance this year. For the first time in three years. J. Joseph Curran Jr., the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has not introduced the measure.
Last year, during the committee hearing on the bill, a veterinarian testifying for the abolition of the traps tried to pass around to committee members the amputated leg of a cat who had been caught in a trap. Then one of the bills's opponents answered in kind, bringing to the committee a dead nutria, a ground-hog like creature that breeds often and in great numbers, and is said to devastate Eastern Shore swamps.
The traps, explained Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., (D-Lower Shore) are needed to keep such pests under control.
Among the perennials are some of the legislature's most serious and emotion-laden issues: The death penalty ( in its fourth year) brings tales of horrible crimes. Abortion is often accompanied by pictures of fetuses. Anti-druk driving bills are frequently presented with grisly pictures of accidents.
No matter how excessive the historionics or how seemingly futile the cause, it all serves a purpose, said Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore), the veteran legislator who has probably seen more performances than most here. Some of them "are just ahead of their time," he said.
"If you hit a cement block with a hammer 100 times, it may break on the 101st," said Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), who this year is sponsoring the bill to abolish the censor board and the measure to require tarpaulins over loose truck loads. It's rarely "the last blow" that passes the bill. Denis said. "It's the 100 that came before."
"Maybe I'm the St. Jude of the Maryland legislature - you know, he was the saint of lost causes. But the covered trucks bill is going to pass next year, if not this," he said, his smile fading into a purposeful look. "I'm absolutely convinced that it will pass."