Assignments for the Assembly

April 05, 1991

With four days left in the 1991 General Assembly session, lawmakers have tough assignments in front of them. Significant legislation appears blocked because of the intransigence of a few leaders. Failure to act positively would prove embarrassing for all 188 members.

The worst offender has been Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. He bottled up campaign finance reform at the request of the Senate president until the bill was weakened; he has throttled a bill requiring added vehicle-emission equipment on cars, and he poses a threat to a measure that would make it easier for battered women to present courtroom testimony of spousal abuse syndrome.

Senate President Mike Miller, and other senators, should not let the whim of one legislator determine the fate of legislation. Mr. Baker earlier quashed a bill to ban the sale of assault-style weapons -- even refusing the governor's request to delay the final vote. This kind of high-handed legislating gives the General Assembly a bad name.

Campaign finance reforms must be enacted if lawmakers hope to regain the public's trust. Excluding lobbyists from fund-raising is appropriate, as is a limit on political action committee aid that is in line with the House version.

The spousal-abuse bill seemed headed toward passage until Mr. Baker intervened. Now he sits on a conference committee to determine the bill's fate. The bill is a commendable attempt to let battered women present their full story in court.

What has now become a prime goal of the environmentalist lobby, added vehicle-emissions equipment on new cars, is also at Mr. Baker's mercy. The tougher standards are needed to reduce air pollution without chasing firms -- and jobs -- out of Maryland. The longer legislators wait to heighten emissions standards, the harder it will be to meet federal mandates without punishing industry.

Legislators also have to face up to their responsibility to keep the state's roads in good shape. Unless House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell eases his opposition to raising motor-vehicle fees, officials will have to halt most new road work -- and lose up to $200 million in federal aid this summer.

Another bill still languishing in a Senate committee is a promising measure aimed at giving tens of thousands of uninsured Marylanders a chance to buy basic, low-cost health protection. Labor and business groups have united behind this proposal.

Legislators also have a chance to close loopholes in the state's open-meetings law and require developers to replant trees destroyed during construction. Both measures deserve passage. And when the two houses complete work on this year's capital budget, we urge them to give the Baltimore Convention Center the full $2 million requested for planning a vast expansion. The economic benefits of this undertaking are enormous; the convention center is a public venture that is a proven generator of tax revenues and jobs.

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