ANNAPOLIS – When Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, announced he would retire at the end of this year many were surprised.
The 52-year-old Republican had risen quickly in the General Assembly, serving one term in the House of Delegates before moving to the Senate, where he was elected minority leader in 1998.
Now Madden will leave the General Assembly after 10 years, having given up his leadership post in September, with one year remaining in his second Senate term.
“The demands of political life began to eat up a disproportionate amount of time for family and livelihood,” Madden said recently. “It was taking up 85 percent of my time.”
Senior legislators, staff and State House observers all agree that the job is indeed taking up more time than ever before. The impact is challenging the very identity of the state’s “citizen legislature.” They complain the workload is ever increasing, but some statistics, at least, belie their argument.
Shortly before he made his announcement, Madden was asked to serve on a new task force looking into the state’s nursing shortage.
The task force would have taken up at least six or seven full days over the course of the year, Madden estimated. That was time he did not have.
His seat on the Maryland State Art Council’s board consumed four entire days in the first three weeks of November, Madden said.
Of course, there are also the parades, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and Eagle Scout awards.
Campaigning and fundraising for the 2002 election would consume next year.
Add that to his responsibilities as Senate minority leader, a member of three committees, three subcommittees, three joint committees and an assortment of task forces, commissions and boards, and it is no wonder the father of four said he needs more time to devote to family and his expanding insurance business.
The General Assembly meets for 90 days in Annapolis each spring, and may be called into special session as events warrant. Some committees also meet in the off period, called the interim.
Madden is one example of the increased time demands on legislators, but certainly not the only one.
“My workload is unbelievable,” said Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, chairman of the powerful Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I used to practice law but I quit a couple of years ago.”
“You can make of it what you want,” Baker said. “But if you’re going to do a good job for your people you’ve got to work your ass off.”
There are dissenting voices however, like House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard.
It’s not workload, which hasn’t changed much over the years, keeping lawmakers in Annapolis, said the retired engineer and farmer. It’s work on a re-election bid.
Blair Lee, political commentator and former Montgomery County lobbyist, agrees: “Is all of the extra work in the public’s interest or in the political interest of the legislators?”
Evidence of an increased workload is mixed and legislators themselves find it challenging to quantify the demands on their time.
Analysis of General Assembly bill traffic in the last 30 legislative sessions produces conflicting numbers. If only the number of bills introduced and passed in each session is considered, it would appear that the General Assembly is doing less work now than 30 years ago.
Comparing like term years, to account for cyclical legislative traffic patterns, during the 2001 session, the third in a four-year legislative term, 2,365 bills were introduced and 927 passed both houses. In 1973, also a third- year session, there were 2,880 introduced and 935 passed by both houses, not including two special sessions that year.
In sheer numbers, less legislation is going through the General Assembly.
That’s not an indicator of the work that is being done, counters Delegate Wade Kach, R-Baltimore.
“There is a tremendous effort now that legislation be done the right way,” said Kach, a Baltimore County math teacher for 18 of his 26 years in the House of Delegates. “More time is spent on issues and legislation than ever before.”
Issues are more complicated now, particularly since the federal government abdicated substantial responsibilities to state legislatures across the country, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
“It’s like night and day compared with 1970,” said the 30-year General Assembly veteran. “We’re involved with issues we were never involved with before, like drafting a patients’ bill of rights or electric deregulation for example. It’s immensely complex and it’s got to be done correctly.”
To research and prepare legislation related to these issues, legislators say they increasingly turn to the interim.
“I can remember that as a young analyst in 1979, after the session finished you had to worry about what you were going to do during the interim,” said Karl Aro, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services. “Now that’s not a problem.”
Many of the legislative committees and task forces meet throughout the interim, making the part-time job a year-round commitment.
“I serve on 11 or 12 legislative committees,” said Sen. Donald Munson, R- Washington. “I spend every Tuesday and nearly every Wednesday of the year in Annapolis.”
But there are lawmakers resisting that trend in favor of preserving the part-time character of the General Assembly.
“Too many of the committees and people on them are leaning toward a full- time legislature,” said Baker, whose Judicial Proceedings Committee does not meet in the interim.
“They spend too much time in Annapolis and not enough on the streets where the problems are.”