While Maryland's 188 legislators are arguing, discussing, deliberating and politicking over subway funds and District of Columbia voting rights, abortions and prisons, a number of their colleagues have provided them with weightier issues to decide.
Among these more cosmic questions: Should the British government work harder for human rights in Ireland? Should the athletic teams of the United States boycott the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow? Should state vehicles run on gasohol? Should there be a Maryland Marathon? sShould the state government commend McDonald's restaurant chain for offering menus printed in Braille?
These issues and more than 150 others are the subject of joint resolutions introduced in the House and Senate this year. Some have real and tangible impact on state policies, some demand congressional action on a variety of subjects, some do little more than pat an individual or agency on the head and some are lighter-than-air pieces of frivolity.
Thus, on paper at least, a resolution "decaying the demolition of the Robins Building and the unneeded sale of architectural relics of the Murphy Building in Baltimore City," receives the same treatment as the resolution ratifying the D.C. Voting Rights amendment or another setting a site for a new state prison.
This year, one legislative management expert estimates, each resolution will cost about $75 to produce, when the legal, administrative and printing costs are added up. That's if it goes nowhere. If it wins committee approval, it must be reprinted, adding another $21 to cost. And so it goes.
But cost aside, joint resolutions have been a handy tool at times for legislators who want to indicate their feelings about something, but don't necessarily want anything done. The resolutions serve the same purpose in Annapolis as a soapbox serves at Hyde Park Corner in London.
Perhaps the clearest indication of this is the penchant of those who draw up resolutions for requesting the appointment of a study commission or committee or task force to look into an issue and report back. Of the 189 resolutions introduced thus far this year, almost one-third call for the appointment of a committee.
Among the subjects the legislators' want studied this year: the disposal of nuclear waste, mileage reimbursement for state employes, product liability problems, reimbursement for hospitals' patient education programs, state fishing licenses, the state nursing shortage, arthritis, the erosion problem at Ocean City beaches, alternatives to nuclear energy, the needs of exotic birds and animals in Maryland, religious cults, the feeding habits of migratory wildfowl, sexual harrassment among state employes, the feasibility of building a domed sports stadium in Maryland and the practicality of appointing a commission to oversee the media.
If it's any comfort, you should know that 75 percent of these measures will probably die aborning. In 1979, only about one-quarter of the 170 proposed joint resolutions actually received the approval of both houses.
The two previous years, the figure for approval of these measures was closer to one-third. And in those years, more than 200 joint resolutions were introduced.
The numbers have gone down, according to one observer, in response to the wishes of the House and Senate leadership. Many legislators, after all, may have strong personal views about the problems of the Irish people, but it is questionable whether the subject is appropriate for discussion by lawmakers elected to represent Maryland's four million citizens.
(The Irish resolutions, for the record were sponsored by Sen. Thomas O'Reilly and Dels. Thomas J. Mooney and Timothy F. Maloney, all of Prince George's County).
The total number of resolutions has also declined, in part, because the deadline for filing bills and resolutions has been moved up by two weeks since the 1978 session.
During the past two years, there has been increasing sentiment for cutting down the number of board and commissions appointed by the legislature and the governor. Two years ago, that sentiment took the form of a sunset, law designed to abolish commissions when their effectiveness was determined to be over.
In practice, these laws have proved ineffective -- no more than a handful of the affected boards and commissions have been disbanded as a result of the laws.
And still the requests for new state committees, commissions, task forces and study groups keep rolling in. One of this years' joint resolutions, in fact, tends to their care and feeding: It asks for a study of the salaries the commission members receive.
Another resolution, however, cast some doubt on the usefulness of the whole rigmarole. In effect, Senate Joint Resolution 34 begs Gov. Harry Hughes to pay attention to the findings of one of his own commissions.