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Two lawmakers fill high-tech gap

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the Maryland General Assembly took up landmark legislation governing Internet commerce last year, there was little doubt who would be asked to lead the effort in the Senate and House of Delegates.

In the Senate, Patrick J. Hogan took to the floor to explain its complicated provisions to his mostly low-tech colleagues. In the House, Del. Kumar P. Barve became the chief advocate of the legislation called the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act.

The bill passed - along with several other technology measures championed by the two lawmakers - putting Maryland in the forefront of the states in adapting their laws to the 21st-century economy.

As this year's legislative session picks up steam, more high-technology issues are on the General Assembly's agenda, and lawmakers again will turn to Hogan and Barve to help them make sense of it all.

The two Montgomery County lawmakers may be unknown to most Marylanders, but high-technology executives know Hogan and Barve as the go-to guys when their interests are at stake in Annapolis.

Of the General Assembly's 188 members, fewer than a dozen - most of them from the Washington suburbs - are knowledgeable about the issues facing the information technology and biotechnology industries that play an increasingly important role in the state's economy.

In the judgment of their colleagues, the two most influential are Hogan and Barve, who represent districts along the booming Interstate 270 technology corridor.

Both have sponsored and secured passage of legislation designed to spur the growth of high-tech industries in Maryland. Both are ambitious young lawmakers who are regarded as potential candidates for higher office. Neither is a scientist or engineer, but both have become conversant in the language of technology, which to most of their colleagues is as foreign as Serbo-Croatian.

"P. J." Hogan, elected in 1994 as a moderate Republican, had carved out a niche as the Senate's high-tech guru before he left the GOP last month. As a member of the Democratic majority, the 38-year-old lawmaker's influence can be expected to grow.

In six years in the Senate, Hogan has put his name on a substantial list of successful high-technology initiatives, including bills easing the taxation of software, providing tax credits for research and development and setting a goal of moving 80 percent of government services online by 2004.

Hogan, a Web page designer and computer consultant when the Assembly is not in session, said his work on high-tech issues reflects the concerns of his constituents in the Germantown-Montgomery Village area of northern Montgomery County.

"Professionally, I have an interest there, but more important, it's what's clearly driving our economy," he said. "It's the future."

At the top of Hogan's agenda for this session are work force issues, especially a loosening of the requirements for students to qualify for the science and technology scholarship program created by Gov. Parris N. Glendening two years ago.

"That's what companies are screaming about. That's what I hear the loudest - the shortage of qualified workers," he said.

Hogan's role as the Senate's high-tech leader is informal. Barve holds a House leadership position as chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee's science and technology subcommittee, a panel created by Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. in 1996 to recognize to growing importance of high-tech industry.

Barve, chief financial officer of an environmental cleanup company, said he campaigned aggressively for the post, winning the appointment with support from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

"Not a lot of people were leaping at it either," Barve said. "It was seen as a bit of a flighty thing at first."

The third-term Democrat has used the post as a platform to educate fellow members and raise the visibility of the high-tech sector in the Assembly.

Besides leading the fight for the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act and other Internet-related legislation, Barve sponsored and won passage of a bill last year to create the Maryland Technology Development Corp. The quasi-public agency was given the mission of promoting links between research institutions and emerging information technology and biotech companies.

Apart from his technology role, Barve stands out the only Indian-American in the General Assembly - and one of only two state legislators in the United States. That has given him a formidable fund-raising base - not unlike U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes' support among Greek-Americans.

Barve is also one of the the Assembly's few gifted comics. His appearance as Kumar the Magnificent in the annual legislative revue known as the Follies is one of the few segments that produce more laughs than groans.

The 42-year-old lawmaker said the technology chairmanship gives him a statewide perspective he doesn't get in his other role as chairman of the Montgomery County delegation.

"I'd like to think I had a hand in changing the perception of the legislature from [technology] being the nerdy province of Montgomery County to something that everybody's interested in," Barve said. He added that he believes Baltimore is poised to be the next hotbed of technology in Maryland.

This year, Barve expects to sponsor a bill allowing biotech companies to sell their net operating losses to profitable companies that can use a tax break, a top legislative priority of the Maryland High Technology Council. He also will be pushing for sales tax help for Internet and biotech companies.

Hogan and Barve have won praise from their presiding officers for their leadership on high-tech issues. Taylor said the work Barve and his committee did last year on a package of tech-related bills called the "Digital Dozen" was "phenomenal."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who wooed Hogan for more than a year to join the Democratic Party, called his new recruit a "blue-chipper."

"He's good at computers, he's good at the high-tech and he's also good at politics," Miller said. "He's young, he's enthusiastic, he works hard."

Besides Hogan and Barve, several other lawmakers are beginning to carve out significant roles in high-technology issues.

In the House, one of the most influential players is Taylor, who has lent his prestige and political influence to several of the most important bills promoting high technology in recent years.

Other delegates who have been active on high-tech issues include Democrats Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's, Shane Pendergrass of Howard, Michael J. Finifter of Baltimore County, Samuel I. Rosenberg of Baltimore City, and Peter Franchot, Cheryl C. Kagan and Nancy K. Kopp of Montgomery.

Other senators who have been players on high-tech issues are Leonard H. Teitelbaum and Jennie M. Forehand, both Democrats from Montgomery County.

Taylor predicted that future elections will increase the number of lawmakers who are knowledgeable about technological issues.

"We probably need another generation to get there. It's coming," Taylor said.

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