Held in Committee
The Aug. 17 Wall Street Journal described one of the unique rules governing how bills move from a congressional committee through debate to the House floor where they are voted upon by the representatives.
When a bill is introduced, it first goes to various relevant committees for inspection, modification and report to the House.
If a committee chairman so wishes, the bill can be retained in committee forever. Many bills are currently being held in this manner: term limits, a line-item veto and a balanced budget amendment are just a few.
The only way these bills can be broken loose from this bottleneck is by a majority of Congress signing a "discharge petition." This petition bypasses the powerful Congress members and special interests and allows the bill to pass onto the house floor for debate and vote.
The unique aspect of this is that the list of signers is kept secret. Members are not held accountable by their constituencies for their action or inaction on bills which may be of interest to them.
Representatives James Inhofe, Martin Meehan and James Hayes introduced a bill which would strip the House of this camouflage and move the process into public view. Of course this bill is
being held in committee.
To bypass House leadership, at risk to his own congressional career, Representative Inhofe gave the Journal a list of the members who had not signed the petition as of the Aug. 6 recess. Amazingly his two co-sponsors had not signed on, either, which highlights the duplicity available to our elected officials.
Representatives Cardin, Hoyer, Mfume and Wynn need to signal their intention to support the end to this deceptive practice. If they don't support this bill, then they should explain their position and allow the voters in their districts to make up their own minds in November 1994.
Apparently using facts erroneously reported by The Sun, Richard Vatz and Lee Weinberg in their Aug. 18 Opinion * Commentary piece stated that a court appointed psychiatrist had found that Ronald Price "suffers from a compulsive sexual disorder."
In the very same issue of The Sun, Kris Antonelli and Carol Bowers reported that in fact no diagnosis had been made but the evaluating psychologist (not psychiatrist) had noted in her report to the court that several psychiatric disorders needed to be ruled out during Mr. Price's full hospital evaluation for insanity.
Thus no mental health professional for either the state or defense has yet given an opinion that Mr. Price either suffers from a mental disorder or meets Maryland's test for insanity.
Professors Vatz and Weinberg then went on to make a series of statements totally unsupported by the available facts. They stated that psychiatric participation in insanity cases "reflects an unholy marriage of psychiatric pretensions and the interests of defense lawyers."
This is simply not the case.
In fact in the vast majority of insanity cases in Maryland both the defense and the state agree regarding the defendant's insanity or lack of insanity.
It is only in the rare, usually highly contested case (like Price's) that state and defense disagree and the issue of insanity is contested before a judge or jury.
Professors Vatz and Weinberg correctly point out that insanity is only rarely pleaded, and that defendants are adjudicated insane even less frequently.
They then state that the rarity of the plea masks the disproportionate harm the insanity plea does to the criminal justice system.
We think the real harm being done to society occurs when The Sun publishes op-ed pieces which use incorrect information to mislead the public about the true nature of the insanity defense
Jeffrey S. Janofsky, M.D.
Jonas R. Rappeport, M.D.
The writers are psychiatry professors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Woods Gave 200 Percent
The body isn't even cold yet and David Simon and The Sun (Aug. 5) are leading the funeral procession of Police Commissioner Edward Woods' tenure, followed closely by Councilman Lawrence Bell, who can easily be recognized by his broad smile.
Commissioner Woods does not need me to defend him; he did what he thought was right to move the department and city forward in professional policing.
No one can ask more of anyone, and Commissioner Woods gave 200 percent under trying circumstances, given dwindling resources -- both physical and fiscal. In the past four years the department has consistently been required to do more with less, for the sole purpose of saving money so that it could be used to bail out other city agencies that historically have been unable or unwilling to work within their budgeted funds.
It is one thing to provide responsible reporting when a public official leaves office; it is another to launch a personal attack, as authored by David Simon.
Lastly, a word about those "commanders" who saw fit to require anonymity but were quick to comment on a lack of leadership in the department. Leadership is not something you find only at the office of the police commissioner; and, if they believe that, then they are the ones at fault.
Having been in a position with the department for the past 18 years to observe first hand, I can say without reservation that never, I repeat never, has Commissioner Woods or, for that matter, any police commissioner during that time dissuaded any member of his command staff or other person in a supervisory position from taking a leadership role. To the contrary, they have encouraged it.
Obviously, The Sun is determined to hang the lack of leadership rap on the police commissioner's door alone, regardless of the facts.
Eugene M. O'Hara
The writer is a lieutenant in the Baltimore City Police Department.
Make Norplant Available to All Teen-Agers
The Committee on Adolescence of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics supports the efforts of the Baltimore City Health Department to offer an implantable progestational contraceptive (Norplant) to adolescents in Baltimore City.
We must begin by stating that, in general, we have grave concerns about adolescents engaging in sexual intercourse.
Sexually transmitted diseases, high risk adolescent pregnancies and adolescent abortions are some of the unfortunate consequences of early adolescent sexual activity. In our interactions with teen-age patients, we remain firmly committed
to informing them about the consequences of premature sexual activity and counseling them against such activity.
However, we must realistically face up to several facts:
First, a large number of teen-agers in Baltimore and across the state are sexually active, often without contraception. Teen-age
pregnancies and abortions are all too commonplace in Maryland.
Second, contraceptive methods requiring active cooperation (such as taking a birth control pill every day) have poor compliance rates among teen-agers.
Third, for Norplant and all other contraceptive methods, there is no evidence that the provision of contraception encourages or increases adolescent sexual activity.
The data actually point in the opposite direction: While 50 percent of teen-age pregnancies occur within the first six months of unprotected sexual intercourse, teen-agers, on the average, are sexually active for nine months before seeking contraceptive advice.
Efforts to provide contraception don't cause teen-age sexual intercourse; these efforts actually lag far behind adolescent sexual activity.
For these reasons, we feel that Norplant deserves to be offered ** as a choice to Baltimore's and Maryland's teen-agers. It is a safe and effective contraceptive.
We certainly do not regard Norplant as a solution to the problems of teen-age sexual activity and pregnancy; one of its most significant shortcomings is that it provides no protection against sexually transmitted diseases. However, it is a worthwhile addition to contraceptive options currently available to teen-agers.
Finally, there have been concerns that Norplant is being unjustly targeted at one particular racial or socioeconomic group. In supporting the use of Norplant as a contraceptive option of the Baltimore City Health Department, the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is in favor of its being made available to Maryland teen-agers regardless of race or social class.
Oscar M. Taube
The writer is chairperson of the Committee on Adolescence, Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.