- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Lobbyists have used their clout to get around a new security system in Annapolis that will require visitors to stand in lines and pass through metal detectors before entering the State House and other government buildings.

The professional State House lobbying corps persuaded state officials to overturn a decision that would have denied them the entry privileges afforded the governor, the first lady, lawmakers, legislative services workers and members of the press.

The initial decision was handed down in November by the Maryland Department of General Services, which provides security at state buildings. Some powerful lobbyists refused to accept it.

“I went ballistic. A couple of other people went ballistic,” lobbyist Bruce Bereano said. “We brought pressure to bear and turned it around.”

A few weeks after the initial state ruling, state officials changed the regulation and decided that lobbyists can bypass the police and security equipment at the entrance to government buildings.

Lobbyists must be registered with the Maryland State Ethics Commission, undergo a background check and pay a $50 fee for the privilege.

General Services spokesman Dave Humphrey said that with those restrictions in place, there is no reason not to let in lobbyists.

“We believe that with sufficient safeguards — registration with two state government agencies and a police background check — the security risk associated with government relations professionals will be significantly reduced,” he said.

Among those fighting to maintain rapid access was Barbara Hoffman, the former chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee who became a lobbyist after a 2002 election defeat.

Mrs. Hoffman said she persuaded Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, that lobbyists who are former lawmakers should have speedy entry.

General Services officials decided that, rather than treating some differently, all paid lobbyists would be given the opportunity to bypass security, she said.

“Someone who is there every day for 90 days is not a danger,” Mrs. Hoffman said. “I’m a known quantity. What they were saying was you could be a columnist for Al-Jazeera, and you don’t have to go through a metal detector. But I do?”

Not all of those who regularly meet with lawmakers will be treated the same.

Clare Whitbeck, 65, a volunteer advocate for Voices for Quality Care, said she was told her new pass would allow her only to cut to the front of the security line, after which she would have to go through the metal detector and have her bag checked.

She said it is impractical for her to register as a professional lobbyist, and she worries that only lobbyists hired by special interests will get into the buildings quickly enough to reach lawmakers at the beginning of the day, before the start of floor sessions or committee meetings.

“I don’t understand why the governor wants to limit the access of citizens to their legislators,” Miss Whitbeck said.

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