Chamber gives Md. legislators failing grades


WASHINGTON -- In its latest report card on Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives failing marks to most Maryland legislators.

But some lawmakers say it's the chamber's rating system that needs improvement, not their voting records.

The chamber examined how members voted in 1990 on selected issues affecting business. Expressed in percentages, the scores reflect how often lawmakers voted for the chamber's position.

Maryland House members scored from 21 to 74, with Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, at the bottom and Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, at the top. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., received 19, while Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., did slightly better in the chamber's view, voting its way 25 percent of the time.

Other Maryland House members ranked this way: Former Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, 41; Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, 23; Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, 32; Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, 23; Rep. Beverly Byron, D-6th, 64; and Rep. Constance Morella, R-8th, 46.

For senators, the scores are based on 12 votes on issues such as the environment, freight railroad regulation, campaign financing, Social Security and civil rights.

During the Senate's consideration of the Civil Rights Act of 1990, for example, the chamber favored "compromise legislation" that it says would spare employers from using quotas in hiring and promotion. Maryland's senators joined with the majority in defeating the motion that, in effect, doomed the so-called compromise.

Supporters of the act, ultimately vetoed by President Bush, opposed changes they said would weaken it and denied that the act would compel use of quotas.

On the House side, the chamber chose 14 issues, including child care, family and medical leave, disabilities legislation, export controls, the balanced budget amendment and the civil rights act.

The chamber, for example, opposed family and medical leave legislation requiring employers with 50 or more workers to provide 12 weeks per year of unpaid, job-protected leave for medical reasons or to care for a parent or spouse.

One of the lawmakers with the lowest scores, Cardin, was invited to explain his position Monday at a meeting with Maryland Chamber of Commerce members. Afterward, the state chamber put out a press release on the meeting, angering Cardin, who said he had believed the session was private.

Cardin said the rating system is flawed and doesn't reflect his own views.

"The leaders of the Baltimore business community, and in fact the business community of Maryland and I have had an excellent working relationship for 23 years," he said yesterday. "They know me . . . I make no apology about my record. I'm certainly pro-business."

But he said he differs with business groups on some issues. An opponent of Bush's proposal to cut the capital gains tax, Cardin said there were many business executives in his community who felt the same way.

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