MARYLAND DIPLOMACY:

One day last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) was stuck for a way to introduce a group of visiting legislators from Mongolia. Trying to find something that Maryland shares with Mongolia, Miller said: "We have much in common. They at one time in their history had a guy by the name of Genghis Khan. We have somebody very similar." Miller, who has had his share of run-ins with Maryland's own warlord, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, declined later to say whom he was comparing to the ruthless Mongolian.

WHEN IN DOUBT, PLEAD THE FIRST:

The Baltimore Sun has written several editorials favoring an $800 million package of tax increases. The Sun even named the father of the tax plan, Montgomery County lawyer R. Robert Linowes, its "Marylander of the Year." Meanwhile, The Washington Post has favored the governor's proposed gasoline tax increase.

So what happened when legislators, as an alternative to repealing the lucrative sales tax exemption enjoyed by newspaper publishers, proposed a license fee on newspaper vending boxes?

"Constitutional and First Amendment law has long held that a state may not impose a fee for the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of press which are guaranteed under the Constitution," John F. Patinella, the Sun's vice president for circulation, wrote to legislators.

"Because of the importance to the public of free speech and a free press in a democracy, the law affords newsracks certain protections," added Post lawyer Carol D. Melamed.

AN EXTENSION OF POLITICS:

Del. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel) has seen his share of floor flights. Now he may be in for a firefight as well. A colonel in the Marine Reserves, Astle got his marching orders last week and will be reporting soon to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina after a stop at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Harford County. The 47-year-old helicopter pilot, who received two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, said he is asking to go to the Persian Gulf.

"If I'm going, I want to be in the theater," Astle said. His legislative seat will be vacant while he is on active duty.

ROLL ON:

Advocates for the vision-impaired and disabled went to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to lobby for the right to drive. It had some senators wondering privately about the future of Maryland highways, but was no joking matter for those involved. They included individuals who want the right to drive their motorized wheelchairs on state highways.

A bill sponsored by Sen. James C. Simpson (D-Charles) would allow such wheelchairs on highways where the speed limit is below 50 mph. He introduced the measure after one of his constituents was pulled over by a state trooper near Route 301 in Waldorf.

Another bill would expand the right to drive for vision-impaired individuals fitted with "bioptic lenses," a sort of telescope that can be attached to prescription lenses. As he passed a pair of the lenses around the committee room, a vision expert warned legislators not to try them on because they would make them nauseated.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, commenting on the controversy that arose after he referred to the Eastern Shore as an outhouse, said: "This is one of the silliest things I have ever seen in my life . . . . I have gone over to the Eastern Shore now for 30 years. I have been all over the Shore, had great relations with the people over there. Quite frankly, they have to hear it, but we've done more for the Eastern Shore than most of the governors . . . . I never said anything to apologize about."

COMING UP:

Today, Gov. William Donald Schaefer will attend a rally outside the State House to honor women and children who have died from domestic violence . . . .Tomorrow, the Senate is expected to pass an abortion-rights bill . . . . Also tomorrow, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hear testimony on a bill setting penalties for religious and ethnic crimes . . . . On Wednesday, "potty parity" will come before the House Economic Matters Committee, as it hears testimony on a bill to require that new public buildings provide an equal number of toilet facilities for men and women . . . . Thursday, Valentine's Day, is also Gun Day in the House Judiciary Committee, which will hear testimony on bills that would restrict assault weapons, minors' access to guns and the sale or transfer of certain firearms.