When three Northern Virginia legislators stepped into the Maryland State House last week, they discovered some startling differences between their own legislative powers and those of their colleagues in Maryland. But they also found some remarkable similarities, and as one Virginia lawmaker put it, a certain kinship.

"We in Northern Virginia are more typical of the kind of people they have here," judged Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Faifax), after a day of comparing notes on legislative styles in the Old Dominion and the Free State.

Callahan, Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) and Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) came here last Thursday on the heels of two Fairfax Democrats, delegates Dorothy S. McDiarmid and Gladys B. Keating, who visited the Maryland General Assembly early last week.

While clearly disdainful of some Maryland legislative processes -- and envious of others -- the three Virginia visitors quickly came to the conclusion that they had more in common with the urban centers of Maryland than with some of the provincial and courtly traditions of Richmond.

Callahan, Stambaugh and Saslaw, arriving at the Maryland capital beside the Severn River on a bright spring day, met legislators from Montgomery and Prince George's counties and chatted about such mutual regional issues as Metro funding and the D.C. voting rights amendment.

The day was not without its lighter moments. House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) jokingly tried to borrow their votes to help kill a spending limitations bill. When the three Virginians went for lunch at a popular sandwich deli they were given former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel's reserved table. And, as luck would have it, the Maryland House members lived up to their infamous reputation by barking and howling during a vote on regulating dog wardens.

Although cautioned by one Marylander to expect "a little formality here," these trained-in-Virginia legislators soon decided, in the words of Saslaw, that "there's no formality at all."

But on of the most peculiar experiences for the three Virginia lawmakers was watching Maryland's version of the committee system -- the process by which bills work (or don't work) their way through the General Assembly.

Callahan, Saslaw and Stambaugh -- sitting in the visitors' gallery and poring over Assembly brochures, seating charts and legislative schedules like any tourists -- didn't know what to make of it.

Maryland issues committee reports each day, listing every bill acted on and noting which bills were killed or sent to the House or Senate floor. By contrast, Virginia publishes a daily calendar listing only bills that reach the floor, but including how each committee member voted on the bill.(In Maryland, the committee clerk will give you the roll call vote, and in Virginia, the clerk or a committee member will tell you what happened to a bill that died in committee.)

Among the things they liked about the Maryland legislature, the three Virginians included the shoe shine stand on the first floor of the State House, the roomy lounges (with free coffee) next to the House and Senate and the larger number of blacks and women in both chambers. In Maryland there are five black senators and nine black delegates compared with one black in the Virginia Senate and four blacks in the Virginia House of Delegates. The numbers are about the same for women: In Maryland there are three women senators and 21 women delegates; Virginia has one woman in the Senate and eight in the House of Delegates.

In a hallway after the morning House session, the three Virginians mingled easily with the Marylanders. Saslaw invited Del. Frank J. Komenda (D-Prince George's) and other legislators to take a day off next year so he could show them around the Virginia Assembly.

Del. Anthony Cicoria (D-Prince George's) gave the visitors a warm welcome, and an even warmer suggestion to "take care of" -- that is, to kill -- "that D.C. (voting rights) amendment."

Mostly, though, the day was apolitical and full of humor.

Scanning portraits of former Maryland House Speakers, Callahan asked, "How many of the people in those pictures are in jail?"

While seated comfortably at the "Governor's Office" table at Chick and Ruth's Delly, Callahan couldn't resist one more observation . "That's interesting," he said. "The Great Seal of Maryland has a racehorse on it." i

Maryland lawmakers struck back by poking fun at Virgnia's aristocratic and seniority-burdened image and the emergence of Republicans as a growing political force.

"I always wanted to know what the Privileges and Elections Committee did," quipped Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's).

After declining invitations to socialize at the famed Fran O'brien's, the three Northern Virginians began the hour-long drive back to Fairfax County. t

The day, they said, had been fun and enlightening, and Saslaw began planning a friendly get-together in Fairfax for area Virginia and Maryland legislators.

Then, realizing that the Maryland guests would outnumber their Virginia hosts 57 to 27, Saslaw had a better idea: "Let's get them to invite us."