MARYLAND

DEBATING POINTS: For most opponents, abortion remains overwhelmingly a moral issue. If there were any doubts, they were dispelled during a five-hour hearing that two General Assembly committees held in Annapolis last week. But some arguments against abortion leaned heavily on a subject dear to legislative hearts: politics. Richard Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, noted that Baltimore is expected to lose up to two senators and six delegates when the legislature is reapportioned to conform with population shifts recorded in the 1990 census. Much of the population loss in Baltimore, he said, would have been offset had not 45,000 abortions been performed in the city during the 1980s. "It could be argued," Dowling said, "that Baltimore City is being aborted into political oblivion."

CHANGE OF COMMAND: Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who is beginning his fifth term in the state House, was elected unanimously Friday as chairman of the Prince George's County House delegation. Vallario, a 53-year-old lawyer from Suitland, succeeds Sylvania W. Woods Jr. Last week, Woods resigned abruptly as reports surfaced that he was the subject of an investigation by the State Prosecutor's Office. At a delegation meeting, Vallario promised to be as "fair" as Woods had been in two years as chairman. The delegation also approved the awarding of a plaque to Woods. "This is for dedicated service to this delegation," Vallario said. "He did such a great job. This is just a token of our appreciation for all he did."

NAMESAKE: In recent years, Maryland has enacted some of the strictest drunken-driving laws in the country. But, say some lawmakers, there is a glaring omission. It still is legal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the car. Maryland, along with 35 states, has a law against consuming alcohol while driving, but such laws are hard to enforce. Police must witness the consumption. A bill has been introduced to ban open containers. The sponsor: Sen. F. Vernon Boozer.

GIVE ME LAND, LOTS OF LAND: For 44 years, state Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. (D-Dorchester) has watched as environmental regulations have put more and more restrictions on what landowners -- particularly Eastern Shore farmers -- can do with their property. So when Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed a new round of land-use controls this year, Malkus and some of his Eastern Shore colleagues decided to strike back. Last week, they introduced the Private Land Rights Protection Act, which would require the attorney general to review land-use regulations to determine whether they amount to a seizure of property rights by the state. Malkus said it is time to stop government programs that in his view deprive farmers and other landowners of their primary source of equity. "That is their retirement. And the more we erode it, the more we erode their future," he said.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), assessing the daunting challenge that less-than-towering Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg has in persuading the legislature to adopt an $800 million package that would raise taxes and restructure the tax code: "By the time Mickey gets through carrying that around, he'll be 4 foot 7 inches tall."

COMING UP: Tomorrow the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to consider nearly a dozen abortion-related bills, including proposals to allow almost unrestricted access to abortion, require parental notification for minors and mandate increased state oversight of abortion clinics.

For information on legislation before the General Assembly, call 301-858-3810 (toll free from the Washington area).