ANNAPOLIS – Members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus said they managed to regroup from the early-session ouster of their leader, former Sen. Larry Young, and finish the 1998 General Assembly as successfully as most.
“It was a slow start, but in the end we did well,” said Sen. Decatur Trotter, D-Prince George’s. “We regrouped and moved straight ahead.”
Although the caucus did not push for any major legislation, Trotter said, members individually brought home lots of money for their districts.
But Del. Salima Siler Marriott, D-Baltimore, said that while the session had some good points, it fell short of the Black Caucus’ agenda. Only about half of the items endorsed by the caucus were ultimately passed, she said.
“It was a great year for the people in general,” she said. “But for the caucus, things were not necessarily that great.”
For instance, she said, the caucus endorsed bills to reform capital punishment by establishing a database comparing homicides in the state and the number and race of people on death row. It backed a bill that would have offered parole to those serving prison terms of life without parole.
The caucus also endorsed bills that would have created a counseling program for potential dropouts and a commission to study the concentration of poverty.
Each of those caucus-backed efforts failed, said Marriott.
Still, she said, it was a good year for the people and for families in the state. Many of the bills that passed, even though they were not specifically backed by the caucus, were the things that citizens needed most, said Marriott.
Some of those bills included expanding children’s health care, funding cancer screening for low-income people and granting an earned-income tax credit for those living below the poverty level.
“I thought the session went well,” said Marriott.”I was pleased with my personal accomplishments. And I think that we had a responsible tax-reduction package.”
Caucus members said key issues during the session included appointing more African-American leaders in the state, increasing school funding, reducing crime and reforming welfare, which includes health care for children.
At the beginning of the session, things were not so rosy. Young, who was chairman of the 36-member caucus, was being investigated by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics for reportedly mingling his public and private businesses.
The committee charged that Young had improperly received thousands of dollars in gifts and consulting fees from companies doing business with the state. It also said he failed to disclose the deals, for which he did little work in return.
The committee recommended that Young be expelled from the Senate, which did so in a historic vote in January.
But by the end of the session Monday, nine caucus members in the Senate had signed a letter addressed to community leaders praising this year’s session and the efforts of Gov. Paris Glendening.
“No governor in the history of Maryland has so thoroughly recognized the wealth of African-American achievement in our state,” said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore.
McFadden said he would not complain — the session was good as any other one for caucus members.