At long last, he's lobbied


This is the third in an occasional series of articles about a freshman lawmaker's experience in Annapolis.

After 76 days in Annapolis, it finally happened. A fellolegislator lobbied freshman delegate Don Murphy.

Sen. Christopher J. McCabe took him and several other Republicans into a proverbial "back room" last Tuesday and asked them to support creating a commission to review Maryland's sentencing laws.

By State House standards, the session was pretty tame -- a good cause, no cigars or quid pro quos. The only surprise, Mr. Murphy said, was that it hadn't happened sooner.

"I thought there would be lots of back-room, backslapping 'Vote for my bill, I'll vote for yours' types of meetings," he said. "That was kind of the first time that anybody has said, 'Hey, I've got this bill. What do you think?' It was kind of nice."

In November, Mr. Murphy traded his job leasing office space in Baltimore County for membership in the largest freshman class of lawmakers in at least two decades. Since the General Assembly opened in January, his days have been filled with the rewards and frustrations typical of life in the legislature.

The 34-year-old Republican saw it all Tuesday, when a reporter followed him for the day. He voted on more than 30 pieces of legislation, took advice from fellow Republicans and grappled with a difficult proposal only to see it defeated.

His morning began at 6:30 in a downtown Annapolis hotel room. An empty package of chocolate chip cookies that he had pulled from a vending machine around 4 a.m. still lay on the night table next to his bed. His open suitcase sat on the floor.

"There's no place like home," he said wistfully, looking about the room.

Mr. Murphy lives about 35 miles away with his wife, Gloria, and their two young children in Catonsville. Like most legislators, though, he stays in Annapolis on Monday nights because floor sessions run well into the evening.

After eating the $2.39 breakfast special of fried eggs, hash browns and toast at the State House cafeteria, Mr. Murphy headed to the weekly 8:30 a.m. meeting of the House Republican caucus. The session was fairly routine.

GOP leaders offered advice on how to vote on pork-barrel projects. They also warned newcomers to avoid conflicts of interest because of scrutiny in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Complimented on speech

Mr. Murphy arrived on the House floor about 9:50, where a fellow freshman complimented him on his first speech before the body. He had addressed the House a week earlier, urging passage of a bill that would make a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 absolute proof of drunken driving.

During his brief speech, Mr. Murphy managed to make his point, amuse fellow legislators and rebut one of the House's better debaters, Dundalk Democrat John S. Arnick.

Mr. Arnick spoke first, arguing that the bill would cause people who drank only two beers to be found guilty of drunken driving. Then Mr. Murphy described an experiment he had performed at a local watering hole the previous evening. He told the House that he had drunk four beers in one hour.

"Oooh!" said the other delegates, pretending to be impressed.

"I wish I had one right now," Mr. Murphy added nervously.

After he drank the beers, the state police gave him a Breathalyzer test in which he registered 0.06 -- below the legal limit. Mr. Murphy originally had opposed the bill with the 0.10 standard because he feared the machine might make a mistake and label innocent people guilty.

But he figured if he could pass the test after drinking four beers, those marginally under the influence probably were safe. He told the House he would change his vote and support the bill.

"Yea, Murphy!" shouted fellow freshman Del. Victoria L. Schade, an Anne Arundel County Republican.

After a relatively quiet voting session on the House floor, Mr. Murphy headed to a Judiciary subcommittee meeting. The issue of the day: How to prevent criminals from profiting from their stories without violating their free-speech rights?

The U.S. Supreme Court essentially has ruled such laws unconstitutional, said subcommittee Chairman Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery Democrat. Undaunted, Mr. Murphy and his colleagues struggled for 90 minutes trying to find a way around the First Amendment. Every proposed solution, though, only created new problems.

They considered making it easier for victims to freeze defendants' bank accounts. But without money, the lawmakers wondered, how would defendants pay attorney fees in such cases? The delegates discussed permitting the seizure of a criminal's assets, but couldn't decide for which violations.

"How come we can take a car from a drug dealer who's not convicted, but you can profit from a crime for which you were convicted?" Mr. Murphy asked in frustration.

Later that afternoon, the full Judiciary Committee considered the issue, deemed it insolvable for this legislative session, and unanimously killed the bill on criminals' profits. Mr. Murphy said he was disappointed by the defeat, but stimulated by the debate. "I was involved in the process," said the freshman, trying to look on the bright side. "When you're one of 141 [delegates], you really don't matter that much. When you're one of three or four people, you can have some influence in what goes on."

After rejecting the bill, the Judiciary Committee proceeded to kill proposals on its docket at a brisk pace. The voting session took on the atmosphere of a fire sale. With 10 days left before adjournment, everything had to go. One after another, the committee defeated gun control and related crime bills that members knew would not have had a chance in the full House or Senate.

As the pace of voting reached its peak, at least one member got lost. "What did we just vote on, Mr. Chairman?" asked Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican from Southern Maryland.

Afterward, Mr. Murphy reflected on the results.

"Did we throw the baby out with the bathwater?" he said. "Yeah." But, he added, "Do you vote for it and continue the charade or vote against a bill that clearly won't get passed?"

Visibly tired

The committee meeting broke up early, about 4:30 p.m. Mr. Murphy called home to learn that his father-in-law, who suffers from diabetes, would have to undergo surgery soon. His wife had been up much of the previous night with their 3-year-old son, who had the flu.

Although the day had been short by legislative standards, Mr. Murphy was visibly tired. The small print in which bills are drafted had left his eyes bloodshot.

Before heading home to Catonsville, however, he checked his evening schedule. The Knights of Columbus in Lansdowne were honoring a local family, and he had agreed to attend. As a candidate last fall, he had criticized the incumbent, Del. Kenneth H. Masters, for missing community meetings. Mr. Murphy knew he had to attend.

He then double-checked the date, found that the event was actually scheduled for the next week and smiled with relief.

, "I'm off the hook," he said.

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