By Jennifer Christman and Ana Alaya
ANNAPOLIS — The final hours of the 1995 General Assembly resembled Monday’s gray weather — alternately intense and drab.
The clouds cleared for welfare reform and health care as the clock ticked away. Lawmakers passed a bill creating a pilot welfare reform program and legislation guaranteeing patients in health maintenance organizations the right to choose their doctor for a cost.
But the overcast prevailed on gun control, casino gambling and tax reform, all of which were postponed for action until next year. So were changes in the Legislature-controlled college scholarship program and repeal of the snack tax.
And spirits dampened with the diluting of ethics bills aimed at ending the snug practice of lobbyists bestowing expensive gifts on lawmakers.
The final legislation bans gifts worth $15 or more and requires lobbyists to disclose the names of officials treated to meals and drinks of $15 or more.
Del. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, said he was disappointed.
“I know that myself and many other colleagues came here to reform business as usual,” Getty said. “It left a bitter taste in the mouths of some freshmen.”
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State senators were croaking Monday afternoon in an unusual debate. The topic: a toad.
Sen. John Cade, R-Anne Arundel, wanted to require St. Mary’s County to prove that a road renovation project would not harm the Eastern Narrow-Mouth toad.
No, not many toads — one toad.
A single Eastern Narrow-Mouth toad, which is endangered in Maryland but not federally, was discovered on the proposed site. Some supporters of the renovation have suggested that someone planted the toad there to kill the project.
“It’s easy to make light of something as small and insignificant as a toad, but the precedent isn’t insignificant,” Cade said. “Let me make an impassioned plea for the species and not begin a bad precedent … this is not a joke.”
Although some senators and the throng in the Senate galleries stifled giggles, some took the issue seriously, going so far as to don speckled toad pins in support.
But there was no toad pin on the lapel of Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s.
Dyson, arguing that the road renovation project is greatly needed, retorted, “I’m not insensitive to the habitat needs of the toad.
“In fact, I wish I could go outside and find it myself and give it as a gift to any one of you.”
* * *
Del. Nathaniel Oaks, D-Baltimore, isn’t a Republican, but he dressed like one for Sine Die.
Oaks added an elephant-patterned jacket to his trademark tribal Kufi hat for the occasion.
David Brinkley, R-Frederick, suggested that his colleague’s garb might represent a political conversion. But Del. Marsha Perry, D-Anne Arundel, shot back that if Oats were truly switching to the GOP, the trunks on his sleeve would point up, not down.
* * *
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. in the gallery of the wrong chamber.
Several heads turned in the House as a Baltimore television reporter interviewed Miller, D-Prince George’s, in their chamber while his own was still in session.
“I guess Mike thinks we’re better looking than the Senate,” one delegate called out.
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A compromised-packed welfare reform bill finally made its way past a welfare-weary Senate.
Included is a watered-down version of the controversial family cap. Instead of completely denying the additional cash to mothers who conceive and bear more children while on welfare, it makes available a voucher good only for baby goods such as bottles and formula.
“You can go around parading the cap,” said Sen. Larry Young, D- Baltimore, “but it’s no cap.”
But Young liked the bill, and even had some advice for Newt Gringrich and his gang on Capitol Hill: “This is a good welfare package. Congress should try to look at what we’ve tried to do with this package.”
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore, was clearly unhappy with a component privatizing child support enforcement in his district. The measure had died as a separate bill, but was resurrected as an amendment to the welfare reform legislation. McFadden pronounced it “a skunk that went and got some lipstick on and came back.”
* * *
The final session resembled a hectic day on Wall Street. Lawmakers milled about, signalling like stockbrokers for colleagues to cast votes for them. They clapped, they cursed. Some gabbed at their desk phones, others gawked to and at each other.
But at the stroke of midnight, the frenzy ended in a stream of confetti, balloons and praise.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who visited both chambers, congratulated the House for its work.
“You’ve laid the foundation for a better Maryland,” Glendening said. -30-