Legislative session ends (quietly)

April 09, 1991|By Most work had been postponed or finished.William Thompson | Most work had been postponed or finished.William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff Marina Sarris, Thomas W. Waldron and Jon Morgan contributed to this story.

The last day of the 1991 General Assembly session was so uneventful that when a mechanical malfunction darkened the Senate "tote board" -- the large wall fixture displaying how each senator votes -- someone wondered aloud whether there was any reason to fix it.

In stark contrast to last year's bitter session finale, when lawmakers angrily accused each other of sabotaging bills, the final hours of this 90-day session moved along easily, making the day one of the most forgettable in recent legislative history.

With the session's major issues either resolved or shelved for summer study weeks ago, House and Senate members spent most of yesterday on the floor voting on minor bills and measures considered to be of secondary significance. Even on important bills that received formal approval, agreements had been worked out in advance.

A fatigued Gov. William Donald Schaefer stayed out of the

last-day activity. Having spent most of the preceding night in Baltimore, pacing the floor outside the Mercy Medical Center room where his longtime companion Hilda Mae Snoops was hospitalized for a back ailment, the governor ventured outside -- his second-floor office only occasionally.

Before he left the State House to visit Snoops in Baltimore, Schaefer sat for the filming of a public service announcement "tag" to a 10-minute educational video on the Bill of Rights. Later in the day, both Schaefer and Snoops returned to the Governor's Mansion. Apparently subdued over Snoops' physical malady, Schaefer decided not to make the traditional late-night appearance before lawmakers as they finished their work.

Instead, the governor sent identical letters to the House and Senate saying much of the work the legislature undertook this year remains undone.

"As the 1991 session of the Maryland General Assembly comes to a close, do we end the session knowing that we have solved our problems and that Maryland is strong again?" he wrote. "Hardly."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said he appreciated the letter.

"We intend to listen to it, reflect on it and work during the interim to build on the session," Miller said.

After midnight, as the Senate adjourned, an emotional Miller thanked the Senate for a resolution honoring his father, who died last weekend. Miller said earlier that presiding over the session's final day was difficult for him, but he felt he should participate, given his and his family's belief in the importance of government service.

Across the hall, House of Delegates Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell received the traditional shower of confetti at midnight and defended the session's achievements.

"We delayed some important legislation. But that causes us to have a blueprint for the next three years," said Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore.

Schaefer was scheduled to sign into law about 50 bills today at a State House ceremony.

Yesterday Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg left the State House in time for the Orioles home opener at Memorial Stadium. He left the game early and came back to Annapolis for the countdown to sine die, the formal end of the session.

Perhaps from boredom or end-of-the-session giddiness, lawmakers pulled off several bouts of mischief and there were the usual "innocent" killings of bills before the midnight hour ended the session.

To the dismay of many House members, Sen. Larry Young, D-City, attempted a one-man minifilibuster against a prescription payment bill in the last remaining minutes of the session. The bill was crucial to a state program that helps people pay for prescriptions. But because it raised an individual's co-payment from $1.50 to $5, Young and others opposed it.

A last-minute retreat by Schaefer administration officials assured opponents of the bill that the individual payment would be less than $5 and allowed the measure to pass. Bill supporters were relieved because, had the measure been defeated, it would have ended the prescription program altogether.

And when a delegate from Prince George's County delayed action on a capital budget bill to benefit a Baltimore church, the Senate countered by delaying action on every capital bond bill linked to Prince George's County. When the church item came up again in the House, the same delegate delayed the vote on it once more.

That particular incident of hostage-taking ended after a private meeting between House and Senate budget leaders.

"The problems we were having seemed to have resolved themselves," Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery County, told the Senate minutes before the Prince George's County "hostages" were freed.


* TAXES: Approved $90 million in new taxes that will add

about 12 cents to the cost of a cigarette pack, add 5 percent to the cost of carryout food, and gradually subject capital gains to state and local income taxes.

* TRANSPORTATION: Passed a bill allowing state officials to raise the speed limit on rural stretches of interstate highways from 55 mph to 65 mph.

* ABORTION: Passed a bill to make sure abortions remain legal in Maryland and to require that parents be notified before minors obtain abortions.

* BALTIMORE: Approved plan for the state to take over the city's jail, boosted state aid for the city's zoo, gave the city an extra $9.8 million in state aid.

* BILLS KILLED: Bills to raise $800 million in new income and sales taxes, boost gasoline taxes and motor vehicle fees, impose statewide growth limits, and ban assault weapons were killed.

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