ANNAPOLIS – It’s free, it’s healthy, and it’s so easy to do that House lawmakers voted Friday to make it synonymous with Maryland.
A bill that designates walking as the official state exercise got a 113-20 nod from delegates who hope the effort will encourage healthier lifestyles in the Free State.
While the debate included jokes about an idea few took seriously, some legislators complained their time could be better spent debating substantive issues, and others worried another state symbol would require taxpayer dollars.
But supporters outdistanced any gripe.
“Maryland has some of the greatest trails and walkways, where people can go out and exercise at places that exceed the other 49 states,” said bill sponsor Delegate William Bronrott, D-Montgomery. “(This) is good for health, good for tourism, good for the environment and good for kids.”
In his bill, Bronrott cites both national and state statistics that he says bolster the initiative.
Mortality rates from coronary artery disease in Maryland rank in the top third in the nation with more than 14,000 people dying each year, the bill says. And in 1998, the state’s obesity rate topped 15 percent.
Walking 30 minutes a day cuts the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a condition found in 348,000 state residents, by 58 percent.
The bill also has support from the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Maryland Council on Physical Fitness, the Governor’s Office of Smart Growth and Chesapeake Bay Country Walkers.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich is a supporter as well.
“As an athlete, the governor would support any bill that encourages health and fitness among all Marylanders,” said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver, who then joked, “The only exercise he would probably oppose is (Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s) fencing.”
Steele and Ehrlich have ribbed each other over their choices of sports – the governor favors basketball, while his lieutenant prefers sword fighting.
Other Maryland symbols include milk as the state drink, the blue crab as the state crustacean and the calico cat as the state feline.
Two more symbol proposals were introduced this session, including the thoroughbred as the state horse and the Patuxent River agate as the state gem. Neither has passed from committee.
Many of the floor jibes Friday played off debate surrounding other recent issues before the General Assembly.
Delegate John Hurson, D-Montgomery, led the House Health and Government Operations Committee that heard the bill. He fielded colleagues’ questions.
“When you walk, will you be able to smoke medicinal marijuana?” asked Delegate James Malone, D-Baltimore County.
“I will,” Hurson joked. “That’s in the bill.”
Lawmakers who supported the innocuous legislation groaned when other delegates asked serious – and skeptical – questions.
“Are we going to spend taxpayer money to convince people to walk?” said Delegate John Trueschler, R-Baltimore County. “Is that where this is leading?”
Bronrott’s proposal doesn’t call for state funding. It simply reads, “Walking is the state exercise.”
The walking bill now goes to the Senate.