- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Schools and Medicaid are underfunded, terrorist threats loom, gridlock could stall the state's economy and Maryland lawmakers still find time to haggle about silly laws such as weighing ice cream.
"It boggles my mind when I see some of the stuff that comes out," said Delegate Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Dundalk Democrat who cast the lone dissenting vote in the House against legislation to let hand-dipped ice cream be sold by weight as well as fluid ounces or volume.
The bill was introduced after a woman complained that someone else's child received more ice cream than her child did and asked the worker who had served the cones to weigh them.
It turned that out state law didn't provide serving by weight for hand-dipped ice cream.
Delegate Paul Stull, a Frederick County Republican, sponsored the bill to "correct" the problem. Mr. Stull says businesses support the change and many cafeterias that weigh salads have begun weighing ice cream.
"It's fairness for consumers," Mr. Stull said.
"It's ridiculous," Mr. Minnick said.
But it was not the most ridiculous proposal to hit the House this year.
Mr. Minnick said that distinction goes to a bill that would impose $500 fines on Maryland restaurants that serve soft drinks but do not offer beverages that are both sugar- and caffeine-free.
Delegate Kumar Barve, the Montgomery County Democrat who proposed the mandate, said he offered it on behalf of a constituent who could not drink sugared beverages because of his diabetes and who also could not consume caffeine because it would depress blood sugar levels.
"People need to be a little more sensitive to legitimate health concerns," said Mr. Barve, adding that the proposal dismissed by the Economic Matters Committee may do better in a more robust economy.
But it would take more than an economic upturn to help Delegate David M. Valderamma's bill to limit Marylanders to driving on alternate days based on their license-plate numbers.
Fiscal analysts said the plan, advocated to curb pollution, would make it difficult for businesses to serve customers and that one in five drivers would be exempt.
Making the scheme optional and providing a tax incentive for participants didn't win converts either.
Sometimes position and personal relationships can make a difference in politics.
But it didn't help House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Anne Healey get her proposal to mandate soap in public-school restrooms approved by that committee.
Mrs. Healey, Prince George's County Democrat, said she sponsored the bill to stop principals from removing soap in efforts to curb vandalism. She said she hoped to get state agencies to intervene but it looked like a wash when she withdrew the bill Wednesday without assurances anything would change.
It also doesn't look like connections will grease the skids for efforts to make apple-oatmeal the state cookie.
When sponsor Delegate David D. Rudolph told House Commerce and Government Matters Committee Chairman John F. Wood Jr. that Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Walter M. Baker's grandson was among schoolchildren testifying for the cookie bill, Mr. Wood was unmoved.
"That ain't going to help," replied Mr. Wood, a St. Mary's Democrat. The bill was waiting for a committee vote, but lawmakers said its chances would have been better if the cookie was tastier.
The same committee came within one vote of endorsing a proposal to make walking the state exercise.
Delegate William Bronrott of Montgomery County is sponsoring the bill, even though he has expressed alarm at the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles in his home county.
"There's been some teasing of course," said Mr. Bronrott, a Democrat. "We are going to wage an aggressive education, enforcement and safety improvement campaign … I think people really understand the issue is about obesity and heart disease."
Although Maryland lawmakers pride themselves on being socially progressive, they wouldn't be persuaded to prohibit restaurants from refusing service to people based on their style of dress, hairdo or mode of transportation.
House Majority Whip Delegate George W. Owings III was the sponsor of a bill that would stop some eateries from closing their doors on motorcycle riders.
"I find it very ironic that a person is judged by appearance I've seen pretty offensive things in restaurants simply overlooked," said Mr. Owings, Calvert and Anne Arundel Democrat.
But Mr. Owings says rejection works for some lawmakers pushing the flurry of feel-good bills that appear in an election year.
He said it gives voters a reason to re-elect them to finish the work next year.

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