Fifteen-year-old Richard J. Fitzgerald of Glen Burnie became an Eagle Scout this year. So the Maryland House of Delegates adopted a special resolution to congratulate him.
Last month in Silver Spring, George and Ginette Evans became the proud parents of a healthy baby boy. In honor of that event a special resolution was whisked through the state senate just to congratulate the happy parents.
Already this year, the Maryland legislature has congratulated; an Anne Arundel County woman for passing the certified public accountant's examination: the Laurel Senior High School soccer team for placing second in a state competition; and a Baltimore man who happened to turn 30 years old.
It used to be that the legislature adopted congratulatory resolutions to honor Maryland residents for an outstanding, out-of-the-ordinary achievement or contribution. In recent years, however, and in this election year in particular, legislators have been churning out the laudatory resolutions the way the mint stamps out pennies, and not everyone is happy.
"It used to be (that the regulations were) for something really significant," said Del. John S. Arnick, House majority leader. "Then they started getting ridiculous. We were congratulating people for their 21st birthday. We were congratulating every runner-up and every winner of every beauty contest in the state."
A few weeks ago, just to point out the absurdity of the situation, Arnick introduced a resolution congratulating "the few" Maryland residents who won't otherwise be officially congratulated by the state legislature this year. Like the more than 200 congratulatory resolutions approved before it, the year it was adopted without much fuss.
To the people who receive the resolutions, engraved with their names, signed by the Speaker of the House or the Senate president, and complete with the gold seal of Maryland, a citation from the state is viewed as "a real honor."
"This was our first baby and we were very excited," said George Evans, who was congratulated for the birth of his son, Ryan. "It was a real nice gesture on the part of the Senate."
Evans has framed the state resolution and placed it on the baby's dresser. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it when he gets older," said Evans, a volunteer firefighter.
Evans' brother, who used to work for Montgomery County Sen. Victor L. Crawford, asked Crawford to introduce the resolution in the Senate. Most of the time, however, the legislators are congratulating people they've never met, but whom they've heard about through others or through reading local newspapers.
John Zimnawoda, of Glen Burnie, whose resolution cites him for winning the 1978 U.S. Open Dart Championship -- and for being of Polish extraction -- said a tavern owner he knows told Del. John G. Linz and Del. Elmer E. Walters, both Democrats from Baltimore, about him. Both men represent the predominantly Polish neighborhood in East Baltimore where Zimnawoda grew up.
"It's one of the nicest things the legislature can do," said Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery) of the congratulatory resolutions.
According to legislative personnel who prepare the resolutions, Denis is running neck and neck with Sen. Edward T. Conroy (D-Prince George's) for introducing the most congratulatory resolutions so far this session: Denis has introduced about 30: Conroy says he can't be sure how many he's introduced. Both men are also up for re-election.
Denis says he combs the local county papers seeking names of people the state might honor. He became interested in the procedure before he became a legislator when the legislature honored his 66-year-old mother for her work with senior citizens, Denis said.
"I remember how much it meant to her. It was a very, very big thing," Denis recalled. Though many of the resolutions he has introduced have been for Republican Party workers, Denis is quick to point out he's even introduced one congratulating one of his Democratic opponents in this year's Senate race, Joseph D. Gebhardt. Gebhardt was named to the Commission on the Potomac River Basin.
"I didn't want to discriminate," said Denis, laughing.
The name of the person to be congratulated is never actually spoken on the floor of the house or Senate. A clerk generally whizzes through the reading of the first few words of the resolution, skipping over syllables the way an auctioneer does. Before the clerk ever gets to anyone's name, the House speaker or Senate President will usually break in and say something like, "I move that the reading of one resolution be considered the reading of all resolutions."
While this is going on, most of the senators and delegates are either talking on the telephone, drinking coffee, conferring with colleagues or reading the paper. So when the House Speaker or Senate president asks them to vote aye or nay on the resolutions, most of the time the legislators don't respond at all.
In that case, the speaker or president rules that the ayes have it and all the resolutions pass.
Legislators like to point out that the resolutions only cost the state the paper they're printed on. Up until two years ago, congratulatory citations were issued as formal bills and cost about $50 each to prepare.