COMES NOW THAT familiar phase of a legislative session in Annapolis when the House lights dim (in concert with their Senate counterparts) for those closing, conflict-filled scenes in which the actors take up a long line of special-favor bills. On this ritual occasion we always recollect the famous lines of the late Sen. Joseph J. Staszak, the tavern-owning lawmaker who, when asked in 1973 if his leading of a battle to kill off cut-rate liquor stores amounted to a conflict of interest, replied: "What conflict of interest? How does this conflict with my interest?"
Bowling, bottles and beer are among the 1980 subjects. The bowling refers to a perfectly reasonable but left-for-dead measure that was offered by Del. Stewart Bainum Jr. (D-Montgomery). Mr. Bainum thought it might be time for Maryland homeowners to stop having to subsidize bowling-alley interests through an exemption from the state admissions and amusement tax. But the bowling lobbyists showed up in force for a perfect strike.
The bottles in question would be returnables -- under an important, consumer-supported deposit bill that is in the process of being loved to death by the big manufacturers, distributors and others. They have found lawmakers willing to push a stack of amendments aimed at sinking the bill -- such as one that would include paper and plastic milk containers and presumably the kitchen sink if it would ensure defeat of the measure. It's a shame. Maryland should be out front in enacting a practical bill that could save energy, not to mention money that people now must pay for the manufacture and collection of tons of throwaway metal and glass.
The beer, along with wine, is the subject of a perfectly reasonable bill to undo a discriminatory restriction on sales in the state. Under current bad law, new licenses for beer and wine package sales are forbidden to chain stores or discount houses that might conceivably give consumers a price break. This protects tavern-owners and other off-premises sellers -- who are among the most generous campaign contributors in Maryland and who are generously represented on the right committees around the Assembly.
Mr. Bainum, incidentally, has been pressing another attractive proposal to end a subsidy enjoyed by recreational clubs. But clubs have clout -- as evidenced in the death of yet another measure that would have ended tax breaks for country clubs. Then there are various bills that would curb the traffic in and abuse of handguns in the state -- and guess who is busy mowing them down in a barrage of misinformation? The National Rifle Association, whose executive director sent out letters to members leading them to believe -- wrongly -- that the bills would prohibit the carrying of handguns on "personal property" and would "trap innocent sportsmen." Sen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D-Baltimore), chairman of a committee considering the bills, called on the NRA to correct its "incredibly deceptive exaggeration" -- but the bills haven't exactly gone on the books.
It's awfully difficult for taxpayers to keep a running score of these sorry events. But when sessions end and campaigns warm up, the opportunities for pointed questions do arise and can be most helpful in reassessing the political life span of incumbents.