Should motorcycle riders be required to wear helmets?
Is driver's education in schools the responsibility of the state?
Should Maryland's drunken-driving laws be more strict?
Are mandatory prison sentence the answer to violent crime?
Yes, said Maryland teen-agers taking part in a YMCA-sponsored reenactment of a General Assembly session, and they passed legislation to back up their views. The session last week in Annapolis attracted about 150 high school students, who acted out the roles of state officers, senators and delegates, cabinet members, lobbyists and members of the press corps.
The officers --including lieutenant governor, president of the senate, speaker of the house, sergeant-at-arms, clerks and chaplains of the House and Senate elected at a meeting in March -- were led by Gov. Jim Dudley of Beltsville, a High Point High School senior. Dudley said he saw the session as a way "to gain insight from young people on how to solve problems facing Marylanders today."
One package of bills Dudley signed tightened laws against drunken driving. The bills made chemical analysis compulsory, increased the period of license suspension for drunken driving and extended the time limit for performing the chemical analysis.
During the real legislative session, a task force appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes introduced a similar package of bills. Both the real and model legislative bodies voted to decrease the allowable blood-alcohol content. The model legislature favored extending to 180 days the period of suspension for drunken driving, while the real General Assembly backed a mandatory 60-day suspension.
Hughes addressed a joing session of the youth legislature and answered questions from the students.
Hughes said he favored requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and cited death and injury statistics for the two years since the state repealed its helmet law. In 1978, when state law mandated the wearing of helmets, 12.3 percent of all motorcycle deaths resulted from head injuries; in 1980, after the law was repealed, the percentage was 24.9 percent.
Leonard Sitnick, a junior at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, wrote the helmet bill passed by the youth legislature.
"People were debating that it was against civil rights, but I think everyone realized how many lives it would save." Sitnick said.
The governor's youth cabinet opposed mandatory prison sentences, citing overcrowded conditions in the Maryland penal system. Dudley vetoed all bills that contained a provision for a mandatory sentence.
The youth legislature upheld Dudley's veto of a bill concerning sentences for second-offense burglary, but overrode him on mandatory sentencing for violent crimes.
The model legislature is conducted in much the same manner as the real General Assembly. Participants take their roles seriously and follow House and Senate protocol closely.
James West, youth president of the Senate and a senior at Bowie High School, called the program ". . . the biggest in-depth experience in parliamentary procedure that I have ever had."
Student Sen. Cara Taussig, a sophomore at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, said using Robert's Rules of Order was comparable to learning a new language, but added, "It was worth it."
Lobbying wwas part of the program for the first time this year. Julie Fernandes, sophomore from Springbrook High, participated as a lobbyist representing the Maryland Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She described the job of a lobbyist as "simply trying to get the views of your organization -- not yourself -- across to the delegates. There were restrictions on how often you could talk, so it was very frustating just watching and not always being able to react immediately."
Delegate Jennifer Trainor, also a Springbrook sophomore, was enthusiastic about her first year in the youth government: "Before this, I didn't even know I was interested in government. There's a world of difference between reading about it in school and becoming actively involved."
Youth Gov. Dudley said he will follow up the session by assembling a portfolio of successful model legislation, along with letters of explanation from the bills' authors, the governor and delegates in Annapolis, and will review the results of the confernece with some of them personally.