Assembly defers toughest bills at closure

April 08, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The General Assembly concludes a 90-day session today that will likely be remembered for the issues the legislature postponed rather than decided.

While lawmakers must still grapple with the touchy issue of campaign financing and a few other potentially controversial bills, they face a relatively light workload on the usually jampacked final day of their annual 90-day session.

"This will be the quietest day I can remember," predicted House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent. "It will be a very orderly end of session. We won't have to panic. It isn't like previous years with umpteen bills on the speaker's podium to handle."

In part, that is because lawmakers have killed Gov. William Donald Schaefer's most ambitious initiatives this year, including a proposed 5 percent gasoline sales tax, the $800 million Linowes commission's tax restructuring plan and a comprehensive growth management initiative.

When the legislature convened Jan. 9, those three bills loomed as potentially volatile issues but fizzled in the hands of cautious lawmakers who chose to refer Linowes and the growth plan to interim study and to defer the gas tax for a year.

Nevertheless, beginning at 10 a.m. and off and on throughout the day until midnight's sine die adjournment, lawmakers will convene in House and Senate chambers to decide the fate of dozens of pieces of pending legislation.

One of the most nettlesome is a proposal to limit how much money political action committees and individuals may give to a Maryland candidate for elected office. Legislators have exhaustively debated a plan that would limit PAC donations to $6,000 and individuals to $4,000 for each candidate during a 4-year election cycle under the latest compromise.

The legislation, which has been pushed by Speaker Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, awaits final action in the House of Delegates.

"Money is the Achilles' heel of the democratic process," said Senator Miller.

"This is reform, but the important thing is it's reform in Maryland prior to any abuse taking place."

The Schaefer administration also has a handful of bills still pending in the legislature, including four education initiatives. Administration officials express confidence that all four education bills, including a consolidating and restructuring of college scholarships, will be enacted today.

The administration is also awaiting final approval for its plan to take over the City Jail from financially strapped Baltimore and to permit the state to have joint authority with subdivisions over the appointment of local social service directors.

Considerably less likely to pass are Governor Schaefer's gun control proposals. Administration officials have conceded that their plan to require that firearms be kept safely from minors is dead this year. They are skeptical that a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons is in better shape.

That is because the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which has rejected Senate versions of both bills, is currently sitting on versions adopted by the House.

"I know the session's late and it's not likely to happen, but there's always a chance -- not a big one -- but there's always a chance," said David S. Iannucci, Mr. Schaefer's chief legislative officer.

Also awaiting final action from the House and Senate is the $330 million capital appropriation for next year. The budget, approved by a six-member conference committee, still must receive concurrence from the full House and Senate.

One ambitious legislative initiative that might receive some attention today is the bill to require that new motor vehicles sold in Maryland comply with stricter California, rather than federal, emissions standards beginning in 1996.

Approved by the House, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has yet to take action on the legislation.

A separate environmental initiative, one that is more likely to be enacted by midnight, is a proposed recycling tax on new tires. The tax of up to $1 would be added at the wholesale level under a Senate version of the plan that now awaits action by the House.

Proceeds from the proposed tax would be used by the Maryland Environmental Service to develop a statewide scrap tire recycling program.

A proposal that would make it harder for state or local governments to conduct meetings behind closed doors awaits final approval in the Senate.

The House has expanded the rewrite of the state's open meetings law to include government advisory commissions. Senate sponsors have recommended that the full Senate approve the change.

Legislation of particular importance to Baltimore is a state aid funding formula approved by the Senate but still undecided in the House. The legislature has appropriated $11.4 million to the state's poorest subdivisions.

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