If there are going to be any big changes in how the more than 500 lobbyists go about their business trying to influence the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly, they won't be happening for a while.

A special commission created to look at the state's regulations on lobbying has decided the job is too big to finish in time for the next legislative session, which starts in January. So it plans to take a break during the session.

"We cannot conclude our work in a proper way," the group's chairman, Donald B. Robertson, said recently. Robertson, a former delegate from Montgomery County, had scheduled nearly weekly meetings for much of the fall for the volunteer commission, composed of lobbyists, lawmakers and several members of the public.

"We could finish, but we'd kill everyone in the process," he said.

Most of the members at last week's meeting agreed more time was needed. "I wouldn't want my name on a work product that is shabby," said James Doyle, a commission member and longtime Annapolis lobbyist.

The 13-member commission has a broad mandate to look at the regulations on lobbyists and to consider developing a code of ethics for lobbyists. Any legislation the commission would recommend was to have been completed in time for consideration in the coming session. The delay means that any legislation could not be considered until 2001.

Many of the state's 571 registered lobbyists have been watching the Robertson commission closely because of its potential effect on what is an increasingly lucrative business in the state capital.

Those lobbyists lament that current regulations on them are frequently contradictory and confusing, and they welcomed the review.

Though legislative leaders announced plans for the commission early in the year, it was not formed until September, which put it on a tight time line from the start and led some to question whether there was a real commitment to the commission's making reforms.

Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said she was willing to wait until next summer for the work to continue if it meant something substantive would result. She hopes its agenda can broaden to include campaign finance reform, at least in terms of lobbyists' roles in campaign contributions.

Latin American Mission

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) headed south last week on a trade mission to Brazil, Argentina and Panama.

He left Maryland on Nov. 6 with his wife, Frances Anne, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, several state troopers and four aides, including two from the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

"Many Maryland businesses who have interests in South America and some South American businesses with interests in Maryland are trying to expand their economic partnerships," said Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill.

Glendening arrived in Rio de Janeiro, where he was to meet with trade associations and the American consul general, Cristobal R. Orozco. He also was to speak to the Center of American Studies at the University of Candido on economic development and American politics.

The governor planned to meet with several companies, which Morrill declined to name, to get them to either begin using or to expand their use of the Baltimore port.

On Wednesday, Glendening and his group traveled to Buenos Aires to meet with executives from an American high-tech company "with major interests in Maryland that also have interests in Argentina," Morrill said.

Glendening also had a tentative meeting scheduled with the Argentine president-elect, Fernando de la Rua, and he was to be a guest at a reception by American charge d'affaires Manuel Rocha and at a gathering at the University of Baltimore's campus there.

On Friday the governor traveled to Panama to meet with President Mireya Moscoso, and yesterday had scheduled tours at several facilities owned by Maryland companies.

The trip is expected to cost the state slightly more than $60,000, Morrill said. It is the fifth trade mission Glendening has undertaken since becoming governor five years ago. This year, he has traveled to Great Britain, Denmark and Italy.

Before leaving Central America, Glendening will take today off to fish in Panama. "He would have had more time off if he was in Maryland," Morrill said.

While the rest of his entourage heads home, Glendening stays on the road.

From Latin America, Glendening travels to San Diego for a land-use conference before heading to Seattle for a meeting with a "major high-tech corporation with a potential high-tech investment in Maryland," Morrill said. On that leg of the trip, Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr. will join the governor.

Appetite for Business

Who said folks in Annapolis aren't ethics conscious?

When the grass-roots organizing group of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, known as Chamber Action Network or CAN, decided it wanted to offer a cookbook as a giveaway during the coming session, it asked the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics whether lawmakers could provide recipes.

"Maryland's Pride" is to be a keepsake book that "will offer a sampling of the General Assembly's viewpoints on statewide business issues alongside regional recipes from our elected officials," according to an advertising solicitation letter for the cookbook.

What business issues and recipes have in common is left unclear. But the ethics committee says it's okay for lawmakers to offer up recipes for their favorite foods if they want. "The cookbook project appears to fall within [the] area of permitted activity," said a very serious-sounding letter from ethics co-chairmen Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Michael J. Collins (D-Baltimore County).

So, eat up!