The scene in the committee rooms here these days is almost comical. As soon as a bill gets committee approval, the committee members trip over each other in their rush to the phone. Everyone wants to be the first to call the bill's sponsor and tell him, "I got your bill through."
With the inevitable backup of legislation in the waning hours of the 1978 legislative session, there is an everyman-for-himself quality to legislators' actions now. Every legislator is pushing hard to make sure that his pet bills are enacted, and not lost in the last-minute rush.
In general, there are two strategies legislators pursue to win allies in their effort to push through the little bills that can help this district or further their election campaigns this fall.
One is to help fellow legislators with their little bills, genty pressuring them for some help in return. In some cases, legislators are able at this late juncture to trade on the good will built up during the course of the three-month session which ends today.
The other, equally popular tatic is naked intimidation. This is more often used by those who have not built up any good will with their colleagues. "Everybody is either trying to intimidate or finesse each other," observed Sen. Arthur H. Helton Jr. (D-Harford). "Either he (the legislator) wants you to yield to his threats or be wooed by the fact that he helped you get his legislation through."
Or, as Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D-Montgomery) said, "Everybody is at each other's throat. You've got to have an ally. And one way to get an ally is helping them with their bills."
Almost all of the pressing issues have been cleared from the docket before this final day. Only an ethics bill to regulate the conduct of public officials remains after weeks of skirmishes and negotiations over property tax reform, prisons and pensions.
With the major issues aside, legislators are spending their time scrambling for support and horsetrading for their own pet projects. The lobbies are buzzing with talk of constable salaries, taxes on western Maryland coal and a commission to study how to teach school children "values."
It was during the height of a filibuster on a prison dispute Saturday that two unlikely plotters made a deal. Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Republican from Montgomery County, and Sen. Joseph S. Bonvegna, a Democrat from Baltimore, each needed help and each had something to trade.
Denis agreed to help the Baltimore senator cut off the filibuster, but for a price. Would Bonvegna use his influence to get Denis' prized financial disclosure bill out of a House committee chaired by one of Bonvegna's political allies? Bonvegna said he would try.
The Black Caucus in the House resorted to more forceful tactics after a Senate committee killed a "minority bill" to allow 10-month maintenance workers in public schools to collect unemployment compensation during the summer months.
The word went out Saturday that to defeat bills sponsored by two members of the Senate committee - Sen. Lawrence Wiser (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's - unless they changed their "no" votes on the minority bill.
Meanwhile, in the House, members of the Ways and Means committee were considering whether to approve a bill sponsored by Sen. Edward J. Mason (D-Allegany) allowing the governments of the two far western Maryland counties to levy a kind of sales tax on the coal produced in their area.
Mason sat in the Senate lounge Saturday, grousing that Del. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) was purposely not bringing the bill up for a vote in time. "The shining white Knight is looking a little gray," Mason said, referring to the accolades that Cardin has received this session for assembling and pushing through property tax relief legislation.
Earlier, in the House lounge, Cardin had been asked if proponents of the coal tax were linking the fates of any other unrelated legislation to the success of their bill. "Yes," Cardin replied. What other legislation? "Everything," he said.
"When you get down to the last minutes," said Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell, III (D-Baltimore), "you get all kinds of deals going. The desperation becomes greater because you have less time to work. Sometimes, the desperation turns into hysteria."
The final hours of the session confirm the importance of the political maxim of "getting along to go along." It is a time when an unpopular lawmaker becomes the victim of "spite voting" and when a well-liked legislator can work 11th-hour miracles with his bills.
"Elmo's a nice guy, so we went to give him one," Sen. Helton said of the Senate's probable approval of a bill sponsored by Del. Elmer Elmo Walters (D-Baltimore) to give elderly persons (free race track passes. "Other wise that bill would never pass," Helton added.
Del. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's) knows better than most the pitfalls of rocking the boat in the clubby legislature. Since making plain his plans to challenge Sen. Edward T. Conroy (D-Prince George's) in this year's election, he has been open game for sniping by Conroy's allies in the Senate.
Even Green's most innocuous bills get rough treatment in the upper chamber. For example, senators gleefully shouted down a resolution he sponsored that would have set up a committee to study consumer abuses by the automobile repair industry.
"This is the high time, when personalities and your credibility play a major role," said Del. Kenneth L. Webster (D-Baltimore), who has annoyed members of both houses with his Maverick ways. "There's no such thing as bill caught up in a legislative crunch if you're popular down here."