Lawmakers question goals of women's panel Potential evolution into lobby group feared


Some local legislators worried yesterday that a Carroll Commission for Women could evolve into a special-interest lobbying group supported by taxpayers.

The lawmakers discussed the group with county commissioners and the Uniontown woman who is organizing the group during a meeting at the County Office Building.

The delegation asked Rachelle Hurwitz, who chaired a steering committee to form the women's commission, to explain her goals, leading one legislator to crack jokes about the group's purpose.

Later, the discussion veered into religion when Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she heard some comments in the community that the commission would exclude members based on religion. That is not true, she said.

The commissioners voted 2-1 last month to ask local lawmakers to introduce a bill in the General Assembly to form a Carroll Commission for Women. Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted against it.

The commission would write an agenda for government to deal with women's issues and provide information to women about services available to them.

A nine-member steering committee wrote the legislation. Thirteen counties, the state and Baltimore have women's commissions.

"This is all pro-women. You're not organizing against men, are you?" asked Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard.

"We're not a group of radical women who are going to put on pink hoods and hunt out men," Ms. Hurwitz said. "I'm very cautious about being accused of being a radical feminist."

4 "What is a radical feminist?" Mr. Smelser asked.

"Only Rush Limbaugh knows," cracked Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, referring to the radio and TV talk show host who often lambastes feminists.

The Commission for Women would help make government aware of issues that affect women, including health care, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and family and workplace matters, organizers said.

The 15-member board would be nonpartisan, and men could join.

Organizers had asked for county money to buy equipment and " supplies, but the commissioners said no.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, and Mr. Smelser asked why the women wanted a commission established by law.

Ms. Hurwitz said the affiliation with county government would give the group credibility and allow it to apply for certain grants.

"I'm concerned about a taxpayer-funded lobbying group. I don't think our people would want that," Mr. Haines said.

Mr. Smelser said the group could start as a volunteer effort and end up as a "burden for government."

"The only small thing we're asking for is credibility. It doesn't cost the taxpayers anything to do that," she said.

"I think it's about time," Mr. LaMotte said.

Women need a forum to raise issues "that at times men in government don't fully appreciate," he said.

Mrs. Gouge said the commission would be one way government could tell women "they count."

"A strong feeling among women is that this is something that's going to be useful to them," she said.

At a point well into the discussion, Mrs. Gouge suddenly said she had heard concerns that the commission "could take on a religious aspect because Rachelle is Jewish."

Ms. Hurwitz was visibly surprised at the comment.

"I'm stunned," she said.

Mrs. Gouge went on to say that Ms. Hurwitz will not always be in charge of the group, and added, "It's for all women, all religions, all areas."

"I'm simply laying it on the line very honestly," Mrs. Gouge said.

Ms. Hurwitz responded by saying that women of different religions have been involved in organizing the group, including the Rev. Theresa Modesto, pastor at Bethesda and Zion United Methodist churches, who attended yesterday's meeting.

Ms. Hurwitz also asked members of the Westminster Women's Aglow Fellowship, an interdenominational Christian network of women, to become involved.

Connie Bounds of Uniontown, who is president of the fellowship and was contacted by phone yesterday, said she and her group cannot support the Commission for Women and do not see a need for it.

"We responded in opposition because we are concerned they will not meet the needs of all women," she said. "It has nothing to do with Rachelle. This was not a religious stand.

"When the women's commission uses words in their bylaws such as eradicate, empower, image, counsel and advocate, one needs to understand fully the intent of such words and statements before they can be endorsed.

"The problem arises that this commission is going to express the viewpoint of its members and is asking for power to be placed in the hands of a few to speak for all women.

"Women today do have free access to political and governmental offices and have a stronger voice than they have ever had in the history of this nation," Mrs. Bounds said.

The Westminster Women's Aglow has about 30 members, she said.

The delegates will take comments on the proposed Commission for Women and other local legislation from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Jan. 22 in Room 07 of the County Office Building.

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