If Prince George's Sen. Thomas Patrick O'Reilly has his way this session, the General Assembly will see the wisdom of authorizing a $500 tax credit for a small building used by 462 homeowners in O'Reilly's district.
O'Reilly, a Democrat who represents the New Carrollton-Riverdale area, has introduced a bill that would allow the County Council to exempt the community building of the East Pines Citizens Association from property taxes.
Why, a reasonable citizen might ask, does O'Reilly want the state's legislators to worry about giving $500 to one of the smaller of the thousands of citizens' groups across the state?
There are two good reasons from the senator's point of view. First, the East Pines Citizens Association has been kind enough to lend its building free of charge to the 23rd District Democratic Club for meetings.
More importantly, by introducing the bill, O'Reilly will please several hundred potential voters, and in all likelihood, cause no harm to anyone else.
His bill, very simply, is Annapolis' most common form of legislative favor.Each year, the state's delegates and senators introduce literally hundreds of such measures for the sole purpose of appeasing a constituent group, a lobbyist or even a single citizen with a gripe.
Most of these bills are quickly killed by the first committee to hear them, and their legislative sponsors rarely make any effort to lobby for them. In fact, legislators will sometimes advise colleagues to vote down a bill they have introduced as a constituent favor. A favor that actually becomes a law, it seems, goes beyond the limits of political turf-tending.
But it is really not important whether these bills pass or not, from the legislators' perspective. What is important is that all constituents, interest groups and favored lobbyists who come to them with problems go away feeling that their representatives are working for them in Annapolis.
One of the best ways to create that impression, the legislators have found, is simply to sponsor a bill for each group and friend. It costs nothing, requires little time, and results in an official, printed proposal -- that can be mailed to those affected -- and a formal hearing, however short, to which the constituent in question can be invited.
The only ones who suffer are the taxpayers -- who pay the cost each year of drafting, printing and processing the approximately 3,000 bills that the legislature considers -- and the General Assembly as a whole, which is annually so swamped with irrevelant and gratuitous legislative proposals that it rarely has time to consider properly all important bills.
"Forty percent of what we consider is local liquor bills," said Montgomery County Delegation Chairman David Scull (D), in a despondent mood late one recent Friday afternoon. "Another 40 percent are the constituent favors. That really doesn't leave us much time for anything else."
Although Scull personally opposes such constituent legislation, many of his fellow legislators from the Washington area have not hesitated to take advantage of the bill-filing approach.
Two local senators, Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) and Edward Conroy (D-Prince George's), for example, have filed a bill that would prohibit the state from collecting excise taxes on motor vehicle certificates for a mobile eye-bank unit owned by the Lions Club of the Lions' District 22-C. The savings for the Lions Club would be $500 a year.
Del. Joel Chasnoff (D-Montgomery) is sponsoring one bill that would change Montgomery County's liquor laws to permit a single winery in his district to distribute free samples to visitors, and a second measure that would change the state's requirements for notary publics to allow one of his constituents to be certified.
"This person wants to be a notary public and the law as it is written prevents the person from doing it," Chasnoff explained.
Then there is Del. Frank Pesci (D-Prince George's), who has proposed that the Knights of Columbus in Maryland be allowed license plates that bear the group's seal. And Conroy has asked the state Senate to deliberate on whether death benefits should be paid to two survivors of a Bowie schoolteacher who died within 30 days of her retirement, thus making her survivors technically ineligible for the payments.
The list of such bills goes on and on. But no discussion of legislative favors would be complete without mention of the bills local politicians have put in to help their biggest supporters -- themselves.
Sen. Victor Crawford, a Montgomery County senator who is currently running for the U.S. Senate, has filed a measure, for example, that would increase the number of their scholarships.
Finally, there is the case of Del. Nancy Kopp (D-Montgomery), who is sponsoring a bill that would make citizens' contributions to politicians' newsletters tax deductable. Although passage of that bill would obviously help her, Kopp has put in another measure that might eliminate the problem of constituent favors altogether: a proposal that would end the practice of having bills publicly sponsored by individual delegates, and take away the credit legislators receive for their proposals.
That measure, not surprisingly, is not expected to receive any support from Kopp's fellow politicians.