ANNAPOLIS – A parade of witnesses told the Women Legislators of Maryland on Tuesday that the state needs to focus on issues of health care, domestic violence, education, gun control and poverty.
Just as they did last year.
And the year before that.
Members of the women’s caucus, who are scheduled to set their agenda for the 2000 General Assembly on Wednesday, said they have made progress on those issues but will continue to chip away at them because they are “so broad.”
“We’ve made significant progress on domestic violence legislation,” said Delegate Sue Hecht, D-Frederick, citing one of the caucus’ accomplishments in the 1999 legislative session.
Hecht, the first vice president of Women Legislators of Maryland, said the caucus has “plenty to work with” when it comes to the problems facing women in Maryland. While the caucus supports each broad issue, it concentrates its efforts on only a few bills, she said.
“We have to be careful and only identify a few priorities that we can really go after,” Hecht said.
Those priorities will be laid out Wednesday morning. Hecht said those priorities will not take the form of specific bills but will be general areas unchanged from previous years.
The process began Tuesday with women business owners addressing the lawmakers in the morning and about 35 advocacy organizations presenting their concerns in a three-hour afternoon hearing.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend briefly outlined her priorities in the afternoon session, calling for an independent authority to coordinate efforts between law enforcement agencies, a task force on family-friendly workplaces and an expansion of the program that educates state workers on domestic violence. She said that domestic violence program, which began Oct. 1 in state government offices, should be expanded to private businesses.
But Townsend’s highest priority is Gov. Parris Glendening’s “smart-gun” bill, which would make it impossible for anyone but the owner of a gun to fire the weapon. Townsend said it is now “easier to fire a gun than to open a bottle of aspirin,” and that the so-called childproof-gun bill would give Maryland the toughest gun law in the country.
Ginni Wolf of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse said the administration’s gun bill “could mean life or death to a Maryland child” and urged the caucus to support it.
Earlier in the day, four women business owners told caucus members what the legislature can do to help them succeed in a male-dominated business world.
Business owners need to be more adequately informed of changes in the law that will affect their companies, said Betty Jean Murphy, founder of Savannah Development Corp. of Baltimore.
“While the idea of a policy is great, it doesn’t always come down” to the people who need to benefit from it, said Murphy, whose company restores old buildings.
Child care is also a large concern for working women, said Debbie Risher, owner and president of Belair Engineering and Service Co. of Upper Marlboro.
Risher said there are 11 women working in her office but, “I can’t remember the last day we were all there together” because the women must take time off from work to take care of their children.
Some of the issues discussed by the four panelists will become bills for the 2000 session, said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery. The women’s caucus wants “to raise our consciousness about inequities that still exist and the way women are treated,” Forehand said.