If the gentleman from Anne Arundel County has his way, every member of the Maryland General Assembly will henceforth be subject to lie detector tests, administered once a year by an agent of the opposite party.
"Me and Billie Rush (D-Baltimore County) got to talking about it over lunch one day last year at the Elks Club and we thought, 'Now you can be the best man in the neighborhood, the pillar in your community, but the minute you get into office the public thinks you're a crooked politician,' " says Del. William J. Burkhead of the polygraph bill he and fellow delegate Rush introduced in the legislature this year.
"So we thought about it a little bit and thought this way we could prove to the public that we're not as bad as they think we are. . . . Now, it wouldn't have any questions about your private life, just whatever you might have done wrong in the General Assembly that year," Burkhead continued.
Who says life isn't interesting in the General Assembly these days?
Approximately 4,500 bills are introduced in the legislature each session, at a cost of about $700 each for their preparation. While most of the legislative day is taken up with the more, well, serious subjects of gas tax distribution formulas and replacement of lost federal funds, some of the other bills waiting at the statehouse trough this year might make a constituent think a legislative session without a few quirky bills is like a fish without a bicycle.
Or, a state without an official drink.
Or, a penitentiary without a whipping post.
Or, a water bed without a standard construction guideline.
Or Fort Meade without a statue of General George C. Meade.
"With the number of delegates down here, it's not always easy to get attention and these bills a lot of times get a lot of press," says Prince George's Del. Tim Maloney, explaining why an otherwise reasonable politician might risk embarrassment by sponsoring, say, a bill that would make peppermint lemonade the official state drink.
If a delegate "can't think of anything to do--and he's got to do something--he might turn around and petition Congress, the White House or maybe even God," said Maloney.
Or petition, as did Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery County), the president of the University of Maryland and Rear Adm. Edward C. Waller, the superintendent of the United States Naval Academy.
"Whereas college football is a great American sport enjoyed by millions of people," reads the resolution introduced by Ficker, called by several delegates the king of frivolous bills. "(And) whereas the natural rivalry between the University of Maryland and the Naval Academy and the great community interest in these institutions would make a football game involving the two teams very popular . . . be it resolved . . . that (the two teams) are urged to resume playing football as soon as possible. . . ."
Ficker, like some other delegates, bristles at the suggestion that his measures are among the "crazy bills" of the session. Last year, he introduced a bill to replace jousting as the state sport. It was defeated.
And, adds Ficker, anyone who thinks his Maryland-Naval Academy football game proposal "is an odd bill is odd."
Del. Frank M. Conaway (D-Baltimore), whose recipe for peppermint lemonade sent not a few of his colleagues-turned-taste-testers racing for the water fountain, also insists his bill was offered in all reasonableness.
"I don't deal in frivolity. Anyone who checks my legislative record can see that all my bills are very serious," says Conaway of the bill that already has gone the way of the dinosaur. "I've been drinking it for years and I thought it was a drink all the citizens of Maryland would enjoy."
And what about his fellow delegates, who promptly defeated the bill after sweetening their taste buds with the nectar?
"Someone else made it up for me at the Hilton Hotel and they just didn't get it right," he said. "It didn't taste like mine. It was too tart."
Another bill the legislators might find a bit too tart is Burkhead's proposal to reinstate the whipping post as an alternative for judges to consider in sentencing.
"I think it's a good idea, don't you?" asks Burkhead, who a few years ago introduced a bill banning Jane Fonda movies and personal appearances. "We don't have enough jails to put these wife beaters in . . . and I don't think it's any more cruel than what they did, to give them a whipping post for five or ten lashes."
Burkhead insists that he is serious, adding, "We always did have a whipping post up until 25 years ago at the penitentiary in Baltimore."
Others, like Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), the jokester's jokester, say they introduced some of the more questionable bills at the behest of constituents. Lapides' latest bill to standardize water bed construction was prepared after "the oldest water bed manufacturer in the state" approached him last year at a cocktail party.
"I must confess I'm not totally serious about this and it started out as a lark, and in response to a constituent request. I couldn't say it was the watermark of my legislative career," he says.
"But the owners are deadly serious about this. And it kind of touched me that it was the industry asking for regulation while in Washington the direction seems to be going toward deregulation and self-imposed regulation," he said.
Although some might consider these bills rather absurd, says David Iannucci, who oversees the drafting of all bills before they go to the floor, their merits are all in the eye of the voter.
"What might seem frivolous to you or I may be the capstone of a career in Annapolis or crucial to a representative's reelection," he says.
"We may joke a lot about bills about napkins and tablecloths . . . but when it comes down to it, they (the senators and the delegates) are the bosses and we will give them anything they ask," Iannucci added.
Including a bill, introduced this year by Del. Judith C. Toth (D-Montgomery County), that would give the voters a choice of "none of the candidates" on an election ballot and another, introduced by Del. Torrey C. Brown (D-Baltimore City), to regulate the size of yogurt containers.
And including a resolution requesting the transfer of a statue of Gen. George C. Meade from storage in the District, where it is "in decaying obscurity and abandonment," to a place of honor at Fort Meade.