- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland legislators ended their four-year term on April 8 with a mostly liberal voting record that included new gun laws, cigarette-tax increases, an anti-discrimination law to protect homosexuals, and major increases in spending on the environment and education.
Lawmakers also expanded voting rights for felons, increased the goal for minority participation in state contracts and expanded collective bargaining rights for workers in the state's colleges and public schools.
At a time when many legislatures across the country have moved toward the political right, the General Assembly pursued an agenda that was progressive on the social front and that reflected the majority position among lawmakers that government has an important role to play in improving the lives of Marylanders.
Republicans, hoping to use the record of the past four years to their advantage in the general election, say the legislature is out of step with the nation.
"I think they have pushed things to the edge of the left wing," Kevin Igoe, a state Republican political consultant, said.
They approved huge spending increases and transferred more power to state government in areas such as the environment, he said.
"I don't think most Marylanders comprehend the expansion of the role of state government," he said.
Republicans say the liberal record was not confined to high-profile issues such as homosexual rights and gun control.
"There was more of a tendency on the part of the legislature to increase regulations across the board that we didn't see the term before," House Minority Leader Alfred Redmer said.
He cited new regulations on nursing homes and new mandated coverage in health insurance policies as examples of what he believes is a Democratic penchant for increasing the role of state government.
Dwight Sullivan of the American Civil Liberties Union said Maryland is a progressive state and that fact is often, but not always, reflected in legislative actions.
"We've had our disappointments, particularly in the criminal justice system," he said.
He cited the legislature's refusal to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and approve funding to provide public defenders at bail hearings.
"In the criminal justice system, I don't think we see the same progressive legislation that we see in some areas," he said.
The record of the past four years commonly referred to as liberal by Republicans and progressive by Democrats is a result of the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of the General Assembly and the legislative programs promoted by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Mr. Glendening a self-described progressive who says government should be a positive force for change was the driving force behind some core liberal successes, such as a ban on racial profiling by police, greater bargaining rights for public employees and the homosexual rights bill.
He used the considerable powers of his office to muscle his gun control bill through the 2000 legislature. National gun-control groups hailed as a landmark the law requiring handguns to be sold with a trigger lock and to be equipped with internal locking devices by 2003.
But it's unlikely Mr. Glendening would have had such success were it not for solid support from the three large legislative delegations from Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which make up about 40 percent of the 188-member General Assembly.
If those three delegations stick together, as they often do, only a few more votes are needed from Republicans or Democrats in more conservative suburban and rural district to pass bills.

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