On its closing day, the 1981, Maryland General Assembly session became a tale of two houses: a House of Delegates so organized that it had almost nothing left to accomplish; a Senate so out of control that it could accomplish almost nothing.
And so, on its 90th day, there was chaos.
The disorder emanated from the Senate, but permeated the Statehouse as filibustering senators took over the floor for the third day in a row, declaring their readiness to sacrifice hundreds of pending bills to the cause of killing legislation that they found unpalatable.
Across the marble halls, the House of Delegates, its work done, spent most of the day in recess or smugly waiting for Senate-amended bills to be sent back for concurrence. A House committee killed Gov. Harry Hughes' proposed gasoline tax, claiming that it would have died anyway in a Senate filibuster.
Meanwhise, back at the Senate, one filibuster ended only for another to begin. They were aimed not at broad, sweeping legislation but at special interest bills. First came the harangue against the racing consolidation bill, which ceased -- only to be followed by filibusters against a no-smoking measure, a labor-backed bill raising construction indusry wages, racing again. By late evening, the Senate had been able to muster the necessary 32 votes to halt a filibuster against only one measure -- a bill to redistrict Prince George's County schools, which was enacted.
Each time a filibuster started, the full Senate emptied helplessly into the lounge across the back corridor. There, agitated delegates, hands pressed to their temples, harangued the senators about major legislation -- not to mention pet bills for their districts -- that could never be enacted before the clock tolled midnight ending the session.
It was in ways a fitting end to the acrimonious 1981 session, a session that unfolded under the shadow of a deepening financial crisis, which spawned bitter battles between houses and delegations over how to carve up what is left of the rapidly shrinking state pie.
The day also provided a portrait of the sharply different personalities of the two houses. The 141-member House of Delegates, run by Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, operates like a military ship with a regimented, almost-sanctified reverence for committee decisions. The Senate has for the last two years tended to run itself, under the laissez-faire leadership style of Senate President James Clark, a gentleman-farmer from Howard County
Several hundred bills were awaiting Senate action as darkness fell, including the mulitmullion dollar capital budget without which the state can undertake no construction after July 1.
"It's totally irresponsible. The leadership of the Senate had better get their act in order," intoned Del. John R. Hargreaves (D-Caroline County), chariman of the House Appropriations Committee, which had spent days laboring over the budget. His panel mounted a series of shuttle diplomacy missions to the Senate lounge, beseeching senators in vain to rally the needed 32 votes to break the filibusters.
"What we've got here is a house in shambles," moaned Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the corresponding Senate budget committee, which had not even voted by midday today to send the budget to the Senate floor. As Levitan spoke, his committee was dashing into the Senate lounge, where it held an impromptu vote on the budget, with one senator gulping down a corned beef sandwich and Levitan a bowl of fruit salad.
The budget was enacted as one of the assembly's last acts.
Realizing they could not stop the filibusters on the most controversial bills, Senate leaders developed a tactic of getting them postponed until the end of the calendar -- a step that required only 24 votes. By late evening, that amounted to graveyard status. Among the bills that died in this manner were the racing consolidation measure and the construction pay bill.
The Senate did manage to enact several dozen bills during lapses in the filibusters. During one such lull, it passed the last of Gov. Hughes' package of bills aimed at curbing the drunk driving problem.
"I guess it's good that we have two houses," Del. James Lightizer (D-Anne Arundel) observed as he sadly watched a Senate filibuster, worrying aloud that it would preclude his own bills from being enacted. "But it would be better if one of them was more organized."
When the end came at midnight, the Senate was still torn by controversy, with two Montgomery County legislators -- Republican Howard Denis and Democrat Victor L. Crawford -- screaming at each other over a local bill that would have allowed Democrats to be listed ahead of Republicans on County ballots. The bill, like so many other, died without coming to a vote. c