- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — State lawmakers disagree about who should manage and receive the scholarship money they award.

Of the 188 lawmakers, 20 have voluntarily turned over their scholarships to be distributed by a state commission.

For years, they have rebuffed proposals to let impartial boards award the scholarships, despite complaints from government watchdog groups and some lawmakers.

Seven of 47 state senators have turned over their money to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and 13 of 141 delegates have, according to the commission.

Senators who defend the program say it enables them to award scholarships for unique circumstances not covered by other scholarship programs. They also say the money is divided equally among 47 legislative districts, giving students throughout the state a chance to receive them. Many lawmakers have set up committees to hand out the money, distancing themselves from the program.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican, acknowledges the impact of the scholarships but has long supported divesting legislators of the money.

He said candidates have told him that they regularly hear voters express loyalty to “the person who gave their son, daughter, grandchild [or] aunt” a scholarship.

“I just think it would be better to have these done by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and let them make the decision and not have politics come into play at all,” Mr. Kittleman said.

The program is one of the few of its kind in the country and has been in Maryland in some form since 1924. The state’s 2008 budget includes $11.4 million for the program: $6.5 million set aside for the state’s 47 senators and $4.9 million for the 141 delegates.

Although the House, with considerably less money at stake per delegate, has voted in past years to put the money in the hands of impartial boards, senators haven’t been as willing to let go of their scholarships.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause in the District, said the scholarships are “a huge favor [lawmakers] can hand out basically to supporters or friends.”

The Senate voted 39-8 on Thursday for a bill to prohibit senators and delegates from handing out the money to their own relatives or relatives of other lawmakers from their district. Freshman Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican, said his measure was designed to prevent a potential “black eye” for the program.

Nevertheless, it brought a fiery protest on the Senate floor from Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s Republican.

Mr. Pipkin, who successfully pushed through an amendment stating a lawmaker would have to “knowingly” give a scholarship to a relative to be in violation, derided the commission as “a bureaucratic Hades.” He also said he dislikes the notion that senators who distribute the money themselves could be up to no good.

“The presumption that there is a cloud I find challenging to accept,” Mr. Pipkin said.

He also told lawmakers that he doesn’t think he should be responsible for knowing “the entire ancestry of my delegates.”

“I don’t know who their son-in-law is or daughter-in-law,” Mr. Pipkin said. “I don’t know who the grandparents are.”

There is no state law barring a lawmaker from giving a scholarship to a family member or a relative of a delegate in the lawmaker’s district. Few changes have been made to the program in the past 15 years.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat, who defended the bill during Senate debates, said the measure was not designed to “place blame or to pull a fast one.”

“It’s to set what we think is a fair, reasonable state policy when it comes to the senatorial scholarships,” he said.

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