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Committees supportive of veterans group plan; Three would be combined under Cabinet department


Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to give Maryland's 530,000 veterans a state Cabinet department received a warm reception yesterday from a Senate committee led by one of their own.

The administration's bill to create a Department of Veterans Affairs fulfills a promise made by the governor during last year's campaign. It would combine three commissions under a single Cabinet secretary, at a cost estimated at $84,100 next year.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a World War II Army veteran who chairs the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, volunteered his strong support for the measure.

"It's something to say, 'Veterans, you've done an outstanding job,' " the Baltimore Democrat said.

A companion bill received similarly gentle treatment yesterday from the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. Del. John F. Wood Jr., the Southern Maryland Democrat who chairs the committee, said he saw no obstacles to its approval.

Kevin Hughes, representing the governor's legislative office, told senators that Glendening decided to propose a new department after hearing requests from veterans for a single point of contact in state government.

The move would bring Maryland's practice into line with that of the federal government, which centralized its veterans' programs under a Cabinet department. According to the administration, 23 states have consolidated their programs under a single agency.

The administration proposal would combine the Maryland Veterans Commission, the Maryland Veterans Home Commission and the War Memorial Commission.

Thomas E. Bratten Jr., head of the Maryland Veterans Commission, told senators that veterans seeking services are frequently bounced around among different offices.

For instance, Bratten said, veterans seeking copies of their discharge papers can get them from his commission if they served after 1978. But if they served before 1978, they have to go to the War Memorial Commission.

Bratten said the only significant expense of the move would be the cost of the new secretary's salary and benefits.

"It is my belief until proven otherwise that the existing staff can meet the needs of a Cabinet-level department," Bratten said.

The only lawmaker to show any skepticism was Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard County Republican who questioned whether the additional Cabinet secretary was needed.

"I think it's probably symbolic, which is not necessarily bad," McCabe said.

No opposing witnesses appeared before either committee.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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