- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Most of Maryland's senators yesterday voted to retrieve for themselves the right they lost 85 years ago to add to the state's budget.

The Senate's 25-21 vote fell short of the constitutional majority needed to put the issue on the ballot in 2002. But it sent a message to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"The governor understands some legislators feel programs aren't sufficiently funded, and he will re-examine and re-evaluate those requests as he plans for supplementals," said Glendening spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, Montgomery County Democrat, said he plans to reintroduce it every year until it passes. The issue which legislators last put on the table in 1994 and has arisen periodically since the 1970s picked up more support this year.

By informal rule, the House considers constitutional amendments only in even-numbered years, when state and federal elections are held. That means the measure would stand a better chance next year of getting the three-fifths vote it needs from each house to get on the ballot.

Sen. Robert R. Neall, who supported the measure, said he thinks Mr. Glendening sent a message, too, since 13 of the bill's 33 co-sponsors voted against it.

"He really worked it," said Mr. Neall, an Anne Arundel Democrat who was among more than a dozen senators who debated the issue on the Senate floor.

Under the current system in which the governor alone has power to propose operating funds the budget "comes as a form of veto" before legislators even vote, Mr. Neall said.

"The people we represent will never have the full measure of what was promised to them in the Constitution if we don't pass this," Mr. Neall said.

"It may cause some disruption initially to figure out how it works, [but] I feel it's a responsibility of ours to accept this power," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who represents Howard and Baltimore counties.

Moreover, "the people of the state of Maryland should have a right to vote on the issue," argued Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who represents the middle portion of the Eastern Shore.

But House Majority Leader Clarence Blount and House Minority Leader Martin G. Madden said taxpayers might not be well-served by a change that could draw out the budget approval process.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue are upset that the governor has underfunded some programs, forcing the General Assembly to make cuts in hopes they will be reallocated.

Many also want the state to pass some prescription drug benefits and are frustrated that the governor insists that's a problem best left to federal government to solve.

Yielding to pressure from the federal government, a reluctant House committee voted yesterday to adopt a stricter standard for drunken driving in Maryland.

The lower standard would take effect Sept. 30, just in time to shelter the state from the potential loss of millions of dollars in federal highway aid.

The House Judiciary Committee has killed bills in previous years to lower the standard for drunken driving from a blood-alcohol content of .10 to .08. The lower standard was approved on a 16-5 vote yesterday with some supporters acknowledging they voted for it only because of pressure from Washington.

"This is primarily about the money," said Delegate Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Baltimore Democrat. "We increasingly get federal mandates telling us how to write our laws."

But a minority of the committee members said the changes mandated by federal law will not make the Maryland drunken-driving standards stronger.

"We are basically going where the federal government says we have to go, which is making our law weaker," said Delegate Carmen Amedori, Carroll Republican.

She and other opponents said they fear if the standard is lowered to .08, more drivers will refuse to take breath tests and there will be fewer drunken-driving convictions.

If the House and Senate approve the bill, Maryland will become eligible for as much as $3.5 million between now and Sept. 30, 2003. The money was set aside by Congress to encourage states to adopt the .08 standard.

After that date, refusal to comply with the law would result in a loss of $70 million in highway construction money over the next four years.

• • •

The Senate refused yesterday to allow adults to ride motorcycles without wearing a helmet, turning aside arguments from some of their colleagues that helmets cause accidents by making it harder for bikers to see and hear what is going on around them.

"I'm an old biker. I've ridden across this country on a bike," said Sen. Walter M. Baker, Cecil Democrat.

"When you put on a helmet, it cuts down on your ability to hear and it cuts down on your ability to see," Mr. Baker said. "If you wear a helmet, the likelihood of being in an accident is so much greater."

Sen. John C. Astle, Anne Arundel Democrat, said he rides a motorcycle with friends and wears a helmet in Maryland only because the law requires it.

"Every time we cross the border into a state where we have a choice, we take off the helmets and strap them on the backs of our bikes," Mr. Astle said.

The bill was killed 25-22 after opponents countered with testimony from several health-related organizations that helmets save lives and reduce the severity of head injuries in riders who survive accidents.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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