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Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies

Previews of the Maryland General Assembly

Americans have a thing for lawlessness.    
    If we had a mantra, it might go something like this: The fewer laws the better — except as they benefit us personally.
    From the Pilgrims, Conquistadors and New Dutch to explorers, pioneers and cowboys — not to mention robber barons — we’ve made our own laws.
    Nobody better tell us what to do.
    That strain of individual liberty is today’s big news. It’s coloring the tea party and segments of the Republican party, most brightly at Ron Paul’s end of the spectrum.
    But even Republicans, those champions of small government, can’t stop themselves from writing laws.
    Lawmaking is why we send 188 legislators to Annapolis from January to April each year. Each Assembly writes and considers, however minimally, some 2,300 bills.
    Eager-beaver lawmakers introduced nearly 100 pieces of legislation — 47 bills in the House, 45 in the Senate — even before the General Assembly convened on Wednesday, January 11.
    In prefiled bills, you see what it was like to go to the movies in the old days, when cartoons, selected short subject and previews lit up the screen before the features.
    We’ve found some Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies in bills on matters ranging from graffiti to ethnic pride to lighthouses. Then we look at some serious special subjects.

Merry Melodies

    Among the Merry Melodies is prefiled legislation from Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), directing Irish American Gov. Martin O’Malley to proclaim October German American month with “educational and cultural organizations to observe the month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.”
    Sen. Ed Reilly, a Republican from Anne Arundel’s District 33, wants the same honors for Irish Americans in March.
    Young American heroes would get a day, the first Monday of October, under Anne Arundel GOP Sen. Bryan Simonaire’s early bill recognizing “positive contributions that minors have made to society.”
    Graffiti would not be a state-supported art under HB 25, prefiled by Del. John Olszewski, a Republican from Baltimore County. Instead, conviction for graffiti would cost spray-can artists both payment of restitution and community service for “malicious destruction of property.”
    But lighthouses would get overdue recognition under another bill Olszewski filed early. It would make a Maryland lighthouse our 26th state symbol. Millers Island Lighthouse would join Smith Island Cake, jousting, lacrosse and the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.
    One of dozens of lighthouses still standing in Maryland (and one of four in Craighill Channel of Back River), our potential state lighthouse is a four-footed, 105-foot-tall skeleton tower built in 1873. It is not one of the Bay’s signature screwpile lights. But it is still lighting the way, and it is in Baltimore County, Olszewski’s district.

Coming Attractions

    Other prefiled bills are like previews at the movies, teasing the drama that will be playing out in the Assembly. These previews suggest that the right to do as we please — except on hot-button social issues like marriage and choice — will be a big story in Maryland, much like the anti-regulatory movement in Washington.
    Environmental protection plays the villain threatening individual rights in some of upcoming dramas.
    Del. Galen Clagett wants to put the breaks on Smart Growth and the green movement. Clagett, a Frederick Democrat, prefiled a pair of bills that would seem more likely to have come from Republicans across the House aisle.
    The unlikely villain of Clagett’s HB 32 is Maryland’s State Plan, which seeks to preserve rural lands and open spaces by directing growth and state funding to areas already developed.
    Clagett’s legislation would give the General Assembly the final say over the governor’s State Development Plan.
    Sewage treatment plays a big part in Maryland’s environmental plans, and it is a target of a bill already filed by Del. Michael Smigiel, an upper Eastern Shore Republican. Maryland’s environmental plans are especially dangerous characters. Smigiel’s anti-Smart Growth legislation, among other things, would repeal the state’s authority to decide who gets septic systems.
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promises to be a villain in the Maryland General Assembly, replaying battles in Congress staged by tea party forces against the EPA. Another Clagett bill forbids Maryland from enacting environmental standards stricter than those imposed by the federal government. In other words, it could be bad news for Chesapeake Bay if Congress succeeds in rolling back environmental regulations.
    Prefiled bills carry low numbers, but that doesn’t give them priority when the action begins. Smigiel must not have gotten the memo; he has a dozen bills already in the hopper.
    Among them is his legislation to give “an owner of private property a cause of action” — more legal standing to challenge — if plans or environmental regulations infringe on individual property rights.
    There’s plenty to worry about in these dangerous times, judging by still another Smigiel bill aimed at the prospect of fraudulent petitions. He and eight cosponsors want more rules, including public scrutiny, to “ensure the integrity, accuracy, and efficiency of the process.” Three of the eight cosponsors are Anne Arundel County GOP delegates: Nic Kipke, Steven Schuh and Cathy Vitale.
    Some prefiled bills revive old grievances. Higher Bay Bridge tolls rankled last year. Bills prefiled this year in both houses would make sure citizens had plenty of time to comment before any new tolls.
    Searching for money is sure to be a recurring theme of this year’s Assembly.
    The search wouldn’t get far if Smigiel and eight cosponsors — including Republicans Don Dwyer and Nic Kipke in Anne Arundel — get their way. Every single appropriation would first have to be approved by voters at the polls, a far-out piece of legislation that would make spending much harder.
    An amendment to the Maryland Constitution proposed by Anne Arundel Del. Herb McMillan, a Republican, would protect the sanctity of defined pots of money. It would mean no more raiding state funds like the Highway Trust Fund, Open Space Fund or Flush Tax fund — a bipartisan habit among governors of late — to get money for other causes.
    As state money flows to a trickle, Klausmeier is looking for money from gambling. If you’ve got slot machines, why not table gambling, one of her bills suggests. Another, cosigned by Anne Arundel Sen. John Astle, a Democrat, wants to allow nonprofits to operate as many as five slot machines and veterans’ groups be permitted to sell instant lottery tickets.
    That’s all for now. But there’s lots more coming — Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies at the General Assembly, now playing in Annapolis.