State Sen. Howard A. Denis, the Montgomery Republican ready-armed with a deft quotation, reA cently reached back to the history of World War I to sum up the fate of hundreds of bills before this year's General Assembly session. He quoted the French general, Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, who drew the line against advancing German forces at Verdun and declared, "Ils ne passeront pas! (They will not pass!)"
Already this year, hundreds of bills have fallen into that category. Like the Kaiser's armies at Verdun, they will not pass.
One bill that will have to wait for a better day is Del. Joan Pitkin's (D-Prince George's) proposal to allow the state Public Service Commission to lower utility rates for the poor and the elderly.
Pitkin and her supporters on the usually-unsympathetic Environmental Matters Committee--a wing of that panel called "the crazies"--argued that the bill was innocuous. It didn't mandate lower rates at all, they said, but merely gave the PSC the discretion to lower them--something the commissioners have steadfastly insisted they now do not have.
The utility companies went to work against the bill, dispatching an army of lobbyists to decry it as discriminatory and one step short of Marxism. The lobbying effort was so successful that one supporter of the bill, Del. Stuart Bainum (D-Montgomery), was forced to defend it on the floor by exclaiming, "This wasn't drafted in the Kremlin!" On the final vote in the House last week, it did not pass.
Another bill that did not pass was Denis's so-called Morton's Grove gun bill, which died in the skeptical but usually liberal-leaning Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. It would have allowed local jurisdictions in Maryland to follow the lead of the Chicago suburb of Morton's Grove by enacting their own gun-control laws.
Currently, state law preempts all local gun-control efforts. Denis introduced the bill at the request of a Rockville City Council member and the residents of tiny, semi-autonomous Friendship Heights, who had enacted their own ban on guns--later amended to bullets--inside the village limits.
Also sent to an early grave was proposed legislation to disqualify young draft evaders from jobs in the state government. A bill before the House Appropriations Committee would have required all draft-eligible young men to give their draft registration numbers on state employment applications. No draft number, no job.
That bill poked its head out of the committee more than a month ago and opponents opened fire, citing the administrative difficulties of enforcement and the question of the bill's constitutionality. The opponents chased the measure back into the Appropriations Committee, where it has not been sighted since.
A perennial issue that made an early debut this year was mandatory deposits on beverage bottles--the so-called "bottle bill" to reduce littering. That measure was bottled up in the House Environmental Matters Committee.
One more bill in the Rest-In-Peace category is an unlikely proposal that would have allowed racetrack betting by telephone. It is an innovative idea, now in use only in Florida, where bettors keep accounts at the track and phone in their bets.
With Maryland's Thoroughbred and harness tracks near the edge of financial ruin, the telephone betting proposal was seen by a racing commission as just one more Band-Aid remedy to stimulate betting--and profits. But in a General Assembly already skeptical of racetrack bills because of the racing's sordid and scandal-tainted past, the idea was just a little too innovative for an election year and the Senate Finance Committee killed it.
All is quiet on the General Assembly front between senators from Baltimore City and Montgomery County. After last month's summit between heads of state Charles Gilchrist of Montgomery and William Donald Schaefer of Baltimore, the verbal shots have ceased and there has been a mutual reduction of rhetoric.
Sen. Victor L. Crawford termed this period "a truce . . . a state of armed neutrality." Montgomery Senator Denis called it "an era of detente," and he compared Gilchrist and Schaefer to Hsing-hsing and Ling-ling, the pair of pandas in Washington's National Zoo: "They're cohabitant, but unable to produce an offspring."
Denis suggested a new, underlying reason for this newfound harmony: Nothing makes for stranger bedfellows than fear of a common enemy--in this case, Prince George's County. "The common goal now is to keep Prince George's from taking over the Maryland Senate," he said.
That scenario has it that Prince George's is flexing its muscles now, after defeating Senate President James Clark (D-Dist. 14) in the redistricting battle earlier in the session. Democratic Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, the Prince George's delegation chairman, is being eyed as a potential challenger to Clark for the Senate presidency next year.
"P.G. is feeling their oats, having beaten Jim Clark," Denis said. "The next battle is not between Baltimore and Montgomery, but for control of the Maryland Senate."