- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Lawmakers, tired of bowing to the governor and scraping for funds to carry out policy, yesterday moved to take back budget power they ceded to the executive 85 years ago.

"This is just swinging the pendulum a little bit back," said state Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat and sponsor of a measure that would restore to the General Assembly authority to add items to the budget.

Since 1916, the General Assembly's power has been limited to cutting budget items, which gives lawmakers less budget power than their counterparts in the 49 other states.

"I have for the past couple of years on several issues felt powerless," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Democrat representing Baltimore County and city and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

He is among 33 of 47 senators sponsoring the bill.

The Senate bill and a companion measure in the House of Delegates also would require legislators to make cuts so as not to exceed the governor's budget total.

The governor would get power to veto additional or altered line items. Lawmakers could meet again within 30 days to override budget vetoes a move that would require a three-fifths vote in each chamber.

"There's not a governor alive who would support this bill," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Eight of 13 Republicans in the Senate are sponsoring the bill, but Senate minority and majority leaders have expressed reservations.

"The Pied Piper piped and minions run on down to water and got drowned," said Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, a Democrat who represents Baltimore and opposes the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, a Republican who represents Howard and Prince George's counties, said the proposal is tempting but carries serious risks.

"My fear is … if we adopt this it will be tougher to hold down spending," Mr. Madden said, as well as easier to erode voluntary spending affordability guidelines the legislature has been chipping away at.

Mrs. Hoffman argued the change would not give her and other budget committee members more power and said it would open the process to the "sunshine" of public scrutiny.

"Now … it is a minuet with the governor as our sole partner," Mrs. Hoffman said, referring to legislators treks to the governor's second floor office for private discussions over their budget needs and his legislative priorities.

Although co-sponsors alone provide enough votes to approve the bill in the Senate, its fate is less certain in the House.

Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is one of 20 delegates who joined Delegate Nancy Kopp, Montgomery County Democrat, in sponsoring the proposal.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, has said there's no need to rush because a vote in the next session could still put the proposal on the ballot in time for the 2002 election.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's spokesman, Mike Morrill, said legislators, who last pushed such a measure in 1994, probably decided to raise the issue again because the governor's budget is "aggressive" and "they don't like the pain of cutting."

Mr. Morrill also dismissed lawmakers' complaints that Mr. Glendening was underfunding services such as health care and financial assistance for the needy.

He said lawmakers have projected that more people will need services at a higher cost than actually will.

All public schools in Maryland would be required to set aside a minute for a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day under a proposal by Delegate Kerry Hill, Prince George's County Democrat and co-pastor of New Chapel Baptist Church in Camp Springs.

Mr. Hill, who last year proposed authorizing students to initiate prayer during a now-optional moment of silence or graduation ceremonies, said his new bill, calling for "silent meditation," is the result of research done after withdrawing last year's bill.

Unlike a Virginia law effective July 1 that survived a federal court challenge but is under appeal, Mr. Hill's bill does not specifically mention prayer as an option a provision the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed to in the Virginia law to argue it is unconstitutional.

"One thing that has struck me is that when there's a disaster or school shooting, the first thing they do is have a prayer vigil at school," Mr. Hill said, adding that some might see it would make sense to pray first.

He said whether students pray or not would be a personal and perhaps confidential matter.

"A kid could take a deep breath and just focus" before starting the day, Mr. Hill said. "I'm not trying to push my personal religion on anyone.

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