Legislators see a busy summer Too little time plus too much politics in '91 session equals lots of "summer study."

April 01, 1991|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff

Just because the state's 1991 legislative session is set to end a week from today doesn't mean that the General Assembly will enjoy a nine-month hiatus from the Annapolis grind.

The opposite may be true for many Maryland lawmakers, who could find themselves wondering if their increased workload this summer no longer defines them simply as part-time legislators.

In general, the reasons for the summer's heavy workload are simple: The current session provided too little time and too much politics.

Lawmakers have complained that some of the most controversial and far-reaching legislative proposals were not unveiled until after the fall election, giving the General Assembly insufficient time to study the issues.

Some of the specific proposals, such as those calling for tax restructuring and new ways to manage land use, failed to surface as campaign issues and were not debated. The abortion question filled the issue void in many districts and acted as a diversion, according to some lawmakers.

"The campaigns got wrapped up in abortion instead of what's good for the state," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's.

And, because the session so far has resembled a battlefield for fighting factions, bills of all degrees of merit have fallen victim to sniping.

Some legislators are hoping that, with the session over soon, cooler minds will prevail over the summer when worthy proposals can be revived for future legislative action.

House and Senate leaders this week will be asked to begin considering what issues will be taken up for so-called "summer study." Reviewing matters that were left unfinished at the end of a session usually is routine business and draws little attention outside Annapolis.

But much of this year's unfinished business is of an unusually serious nature and, depending on what happens during the summer and in future sessions, could affect issues ranging from the environment and land use to taxes and elections.

Add to those summer study issues the chore of redrawing Maryland's congressional districts -- and perhaps even its legislative boundaries -- at a special fall session and this is likely to become the busiest legislative off-season in recent memory.

Aside from reconfiguring the election districts -- a mandatory exercise based on fresh census figures provided by the federal government every decade -- the top priorities for summer attention appear to be a review of the state's tax structure and an attempt to devise a land-use plan to manage growth throughout much of the state.

Other issues could be studied over the summer, too, depending on what happens to them in this last week of the session. Those could include campaign reform, motor vehicle tire recycling, reforestation, and auto emissions requirements.

The two major issues being held over are proposals the Schaefer administration made but that the legislature shelved during this session.

Both the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee rejected Gov. William Donald Schaefer's so-called 2020 Chesapeake Bay protection bill after legislative leaders pledged to have a joint panel study the concept this summer.

The Schaefer administration said the bill, which would have focused development around cities and towns or in designated "growth areas," was necessary to manage a projected increase of 1 million state residents and 640,000 new households over the next 30 years. Without proper development controls, an additional 700,000 undeveloped acres could be consumed to make way for the population increase, they said.

Schaefer's mammoth $800 million Linowes tax proposal -- named for the Montgomery County attorney, R. Robert Linowes, who headed a special commission to study taxes -- was soundly defeated by House and Senate committees. General Assembly leaders said that, while the Linowes plan focused attention on the need to restructure the state's tax system, their review of taxes and other revenues will be more defined.

"We didn't have the time to do it and we got started with a package that was way off the wall," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, the chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee.

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