- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland lawmakers are striding into an old controversy this term with a proposal to make walking the official state exercise, even though the idea was vetoed once before.

Maryland lawmakers gave walking an official designation in 2003, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the idea, saying there was nothing about walking that is unique to Maryland.

“It serves no public purpose,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, wrote of the walking designation, even as he signed into law a bill making the thoroughbred Maryland’s official horse.

The veto was a setback for an elementary school in Montgomery County where students proposed the designation, but lawmakers under a new Democratic governor say it’s time to revisit the idea.

“He did not understand the importance of walking,” said Sen. Verna L. Jones, Baltimore Democrat who sponsored a walking bill introduced yesterday. “It’s the most basic exercise. Everyone can do it.”

There’s been a lot of talk these days about Maryland’s state symbols. The state already has 21 state symbols, from the obvious (blue crabs and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever) to the curious (jousting and the shell of an extinct snail).

A multilayered cake native to Smith Island is on the legislative menu for designation as the state dessert, and lawmakers are taking some ribbing from constituents over the proliferation of state symbols.

“There are lots more important, substantive issues that we take up down here, but symbols can be important, too,” said Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, Baltimore County Democrat. “I know they become the butt of jokes, and I understand that, but this is a small, small part of what we do.”

Mr. Morhaim, a physician, added that he probably would support making walking the state exercise.

“Walking is the easiest, safest and best exercise,” Mr. Morhaim said with a chuckle. “I recommend it.”

The walking bill also has the backing of health advocates, who say rising obesity rates in Maryland make it a perfect time to give a state endorsement of exercise.

“Being overweight increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers,” said Bonita Pennino, government relations director for the Maryland chapter of the American Cancer Society. Miss Pennino said some may see an official designation as useless, but she added, “It brings recognition. It gets the conversation going.”

Still, some lawmakers said yesterday that they are not sure walking should be on Maryland’s list of symbols. Delegate Richard A. Sossi, Eastern Shore Republican, said Maryland symbols should be things that speak to the state’s character.

“Smith Island cake, that’s a Maryland thing. Lacrosse, that’s a Maryland thing. But walking?” he said, shaking his head. “It’s like saying breathing is the state activity because everyone does it whether you want to or not.”

Mrs. Jones, who goes walking around downtown Annapolis in the mornings before reporting to the Senate for work, said she is prepared for criticism over the state exercise idea. But she said she doesn’t understand why people oppose the designation.

“Why not have the state promote good health?” she asked.

•••

A lawmaker from Prince George’s County said it can be too hard for some parents to take steps to block military recruiters from contacting contact their children.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky is proposing that school districts be required to put an opt-out question on students’ emergency contact cards —- making it more likely parents would see the option.

Mr. Pinsky, a Democrat, said federal and state law require parents to be given the option of prohibiting recruiters from approaching their children. But he said some school systems don’t advertise that provision, and some parents don’t know it exists. Mr. Pinsky also said some schools bury information about parental opt-out rights deep inside school handbooks, making it unlikely it will be seen.

Mr. Pinsky’s bill will be considered by a Senate committee.

•••

The leading Republican in the House of Delegates introduced legislation to block illegal aliens from receiving some government services.

The bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, would clarify the law so people without proof of legal residency would not be entitled to receive some public assistance.

The bill would not take away federally mandated services such as public school education and emergency medical care. However, Mr. O’Donnell said Maryland should make certain illegal aliens cannot receive in-state tuition or other benefits.

Mr. O’Donnell said he doubts his bill will pass, but he wants to make a point.

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