- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Debate on whether to repeal Maryland's state song made it clear yesterday that Confederate partisans are still holding their own in Maryland.

"Whose idea was this?" jokingly asked House Commerce and Government Matters Chairman John F. Wood Jr., St. Mary's County Democrat, who later declared, "I too am one of those good old Southern boys that came out of Southern Maryland we weren't Union."

Three previous attempts to strip "Maryland, My Maryland" of its status as the state song, stretching back to at least 1980, have all failed.

The force behind this year's effort is three Montgomery Blair High School students who enlisted Delegate Peter Franchot, Montgomery County Democrat, to sponsor a bill that calls for excising the song, and its pro-Confederate lyrics, from the state code.

After a review of the song which begins: "The despot's heel is on the shore," calls on Maryland to "burst the tyrant's chain" and closes "she spurns the Northern scum" Mr. Franchot said the lyrics are "far worse than the Confederate war flag … [and] inherently offensive to a significant number of people."

Howard Denis, who tried to get the song repealed in 1980 when he was a state senator, recalled that then-Senate President William James, a Democrat whose ancestors fought for the Union, told him he couldn't bring himself to sing the song.

"We have the only state song in the country that calls for the violent overthrow of the government," said Mr. Denis, now a Republican on the Montgomery County Council.

The lyrics were put in state law in 1939 a time when the last Civil War veterans were dying and there were enough Eastern Shore senators to push the measure through.

Jean Baker, a historian from Goucher College, said 60,000 Marylanders volunteered to fight for the Union, and 20,000 chose to fight for the Confederacy.

Noting that President Lincoln sent troops to arrest some General Assembly members to ensure they didn't vote to secede, song defender Carolyn Billups of Mechanicsville challenged the professor's claim that Maryland was mostly pro-Union.

"Why would Lincoln send in troops to have legislators arrested if Maryland wasn't going to succeed?" Ms. Billups said.

Christopher Beck, Maryland division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the state song is a passionate statement about convictions of Maryland Confederate soldiers, such as those famous for holding the line against the Union at battles such as Cowpens in South Carolina.

"Marylanders stand by their words, they stand by their beliefs," Mr. Beck, of Annapolis, said.

Delegates David R. Brinkley, Frederick County Republican, and Daniel Riley, Harford County Democrat, challenged Ms. Baker's account of history.

Delegate Darren Swain, Prince George's County Democrat, said he doesn't like the song but has doubts lawmakers will decide its worth changing.

"I can understand [the students'] confusion and uneasiness with the lyrics, but I'm not sure the answer is to change the words," Mr. Swain said. "Several points were made the lyrics weren't racially motivated but about party affiliation."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, said yesterday he believes it's time to change the lyrics for some that reflect "positive things" in a modern Maryland.

But he thinks the state should keep the tune, his spokesman Mike Morrill said.

• • •

The House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly yesterday to preserve millions of dollars in federal highway aid by adopting a stricter state standard for drunken driving.

Many supporters of the bill say it will save lives by discouraging people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a car.

But what got the bill through the House after three years of failure by anti-drunken-driving forces was a federal law that will cut back on highway aid to states that do not agree to set a blood-alcohol content of .08 as the standard for drunken driving. The current standard in Maryland is .10.

The bill passed the House on a 116-17 vote. It now goes to the Senate, where supporters expect they will have the votes to get it approved and sent the govervor for his signature.

The potential loss of federal aid was not brought up during the House debate, but it was the key to the House Judiciary Committee's decision to break with previous years and send the bill to the House floor this session.

• • •

The House voted to allow children injured in motor vehicle accidents to sue a parent if the accident was caused by the parent's negligent driving.

The bill is intended to allow children who are injured to collect up to $20,000 from the parent's insurance company to pay for medical treatment.

Opponents argue that the bill would damage family relationships and encourage filing of more lawsuits.

But supporters said the bill is a matter of fairness. They noted that spouses can sue each other and that adult children, stepchildren and all other relatives can also file lawsuits.

• • •

A bill that would give tobacco wholesalers an additional $900,000 a year for collecting cigarette taxes for the state narrowly survived a vote in the Senate.

Wholesalers have to buy tax stamps from the state and affix them to individual packages of cigarettes. The state sells the stamps at a small discount to pay wholesalers, who can keep the extra money as pay for the work they do.

Supporters argue that the current discount is too low to cover costs and that an increase is needed to keep Maryland wholesalers from going bankrupt. But opponents say the state should not be giving $900,000 to the companies at a time when more money is needed for worthwhile programs such as prescription drug coverage for elderly Marylanders.

The bill was approved by a vote of 24-22, but it needs another Senate vote before it can be sent to the House of Delegates.

• • •

Max Lesko was a mere first-grader when he made his first appearance in Annapolis to tell lawmakers they should prohibit cigarettes from being sold in vending machines so children couldn't buy them.

Now a high school junior, Max is still involved in the fight against smoking by young people.

The Montgomery County student was in Annapolis to lend his support to a bill that would require retailers to display cigarettes in places where they are not easily accessible.

Max and other members of an organization called Students Oppose Smoking said they surveyed 50 stores where it would be very easy for youths to steal cigarettes. They convinced the Montgomery County Council to restrict display of cigarettes and other tobacco products, and now they would like state government to do the same.

• • •

A House committee heard testimony from some national experts on brain tumors who support a bill requiring the state to keep records on benign tumors.

Supporters told the Environmental Matters Committee that better information would help researchers learn more about a leading cause of death in young people.

The state collects records on cancerous tumors, but even benign tumors can cause death or serious health complications when they are in the brain.

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