ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration's proposal for a massive reorganization of state agencies dealing with social services crossed a major barrier yesterday as the second Senate committee to review the bill gave its approval.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas Patrick O'Reilly, D-Prince George's, said he will bring the bill to the full Senate Monday, where he anticipates no resistance.
Given that, the 192-page bill's only problem may be that barely a week remains before the end of the current legislative session. Still, Mr. O'Reilly thinks there is enough time for the bill to pass both legislative houses.
"This is not just an exercise in futility," he said. "This is a serious matter that, I think, will benefit the citizens of Maryland."
The bill seeks to reduce the size of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene by breaking off various functions and putting them into what administration officials say will be more manageable entities. For one, the bill creates the Department of Income and Health Security, which will handle welfare-related responsibilities.
If approved, the bill also would transfer vocational rehabilitation programs from the Department of Education to DHMH, and create specific agencies for health and human services, the disabled, and children and families.
Yesterday, the Senate's Economic and Environmental Committee, which reviewed the bill along with the Finance Committee, also gave its approval to the measure. Members of the committee chaired by Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, expressed some concern about how vocational rehabilitation programs would fare in another department and whether welfare programs would become vulnerable to budget cuts by being lumped into one department.
But Mr. Blount acknowledged, "The bill is coming to the floor. It's going forth anyway, with or without our blessing."
David S. Iannucci, the Schaefer administration's chief legislative aide, predicted the welfare programs would become stronger by being in one department. He also noted that the legislature has avoided cutting those programs in recent years. "There is no factual basis for that argument," he said.
With the bill headed to the Senate floor, Mr. Iannucci said the administration's only concern now is that time is running out with only one week remaining in the current legislative session.
"We wish [the bill] could have been dealt with a month ago," he said. "This is an uncomfortably short time to deal with this bill."