An eerie quiet fell over the normally bustling House floor yesterday morning when former Baltimore County executive Dale Anderson, who went to jail in the early 1970s on political racketeering charges, rose to make a dramatic plea to his fellow delegates to bring a controversial bill back from the Senate for reconsideration.
The bill would change a 15-year-old state law that requires that a teachers union that calls a strike lose its right to act as the teachers' bargaining agent for two years. The legislation would give local school boards the option to take away the bargaining rights of a union after a strike, which means that amnesty for the union could become part of negotiations to end a strike.
When the delegates passed the bill by a 74-to-58 vote Tuesday, Anderson, making his maiden speech to the House, spoke strongly against the bill. Yesterday, in asking the House to request that the Senate return the bill, Anderson confessed that he had mistakenly voted for the bill in committee.
"I wasn't paying attention and I didn't know what I was doing. I was asleep," said Anderson, a freshman delegate. "That was a mistake and I have apologized to my chairman and I apologize to this body for that.
"Most of all though, I have failed to protect my county and my state from this bill. I know, in Baltimore County, there are many teachers who are scared to death of a strike." Anderson said that the bill in effect "makes strikes legal" because it changes punishment for unions that call a strike from mandatory to optional.
Ironically, Anderson's major opponent on his motion was his chairman, Helen L. Koss (D-Montgomery) who had voted against the bill in committee. Koss said she reversed herself on the floor when the bill passed on Tuesday because she felt it would hurt committee morale to have the chairman vote against a bill it had favored.
Having committed herself to passing the bill, Koss vehemently fought the motion to bring it back to the House. "If you accept this motion you will be doing something that is very demeaning to the House of Delegates because you will be saying you didn't know what you were doing on this bill," she said.
Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's) backed Koss, saying, "If we do this, we are simply heaping comtempt upon ourselves, saying this House dances with two left feet."
Others argued that as a matter of courtesy to a fellow delegate, the bill should be brought back. The vote was 63 to 57 against asking the Senate for the bill.
Anderson was philosophical after his first major defeat as a legislator. "I think it's a hell of a bad bill and I'm going to go testify against it in the Senate," he said. "I made a mistake in committee. I wasn't alert and it was my fault."
Did it hurt to get up before the entire body and admit he had not been paying attention in committee?
Anderson took a hard puff on a cigarette and smiled. "It wasn't that hard," he said. "Hell, I learned a long time ago I'm capable of making a mistake."