Schaefer asks legislature to 'put the past behind'

April 10, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- After a feud-filled 90 days with the General Assembly, Gov. William Donald Schaefer extended an olive branch yesterday -- but only after swacking legislative leaders with it a few times.

"For many days some members of the legislature dedicated themselves to embarrassing the administration and to slow our legislative initiatives," Governor Schaefer said before a bill-signing ceremony with House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

"They knew our initiatives were right, as evidenced by important measures being sent to summer study," Mr. Schaefer said. "The legislative program of the governor was balanced and visionary."

Later, the governor said he and the legislature should "put the past behind us, clear the decks, and set sail to move forward" although the "wounds are fresh" and the "hurt is still there."

Governor Schaefer's displeasure with the General Assembly came as little surprise to lawmakers, coming on the heels of a tumultuous session in Annapolis this year. At their hands, the state's chief executive has suffered the worst string of defeats in his gubernatorial career.

Counted among the casualties was the $800 million Linowes commission tax restructuring plan, the 5 percent gasoline tax that would have financed new transportation construction and the proposed statewide "2020 Commission" limits on development, all of which the legislature has agreed to review during the interim.

Speaker Mitchell and Senate President Miller said little to Governor Schaefer during the ceremony. Together they signed into law 51 of the 780 bills enacted by the General Assembly this year.

Afterward, the legislators said they regarded the governor's offer to begin anew with considerable skepticism.

"If he's got a problem, that's his problem," Mr. Mitchell said. "We work for the people of the state of Maryland. We don't work for the executive department. I'm glad he's at least considering working with us."

Mr. Miller attributed the governor's remarks to despondency. He said "all 47 senators are ready to receive the olive branch" from the governor if they feel it has been given sincerely.

"Leaders do not have the luxury of feeling bad," Mr. Miller said. "I'm not asking the governor to put on a false face. All I'm asking is for him to get out and walk in the sunshine and get his spirits up."

Lawmakers said they remain prepared for a special session later this spring if Governor Schaefer hands down unwarranted vetoes so that they might override them. Such a move would be unprecedented but legal under the Maryland Constitution.

Mr. Schaefer said yesterday that an extra session would be costly and needless.

"I do hope that responsible members of the legislature will not allow themselves to be called back into session unnecessarily at the taxpayers' expense," he said.

The governor said he was also unhappy to be presented with more than 100 bills from the legislature before the session's end, leaving him less time to consider them. He called that move "part of the embarrassment" and a burden to his staff.

Usually, the General Assembly has 20 days to send bills to the governor from the time the session ends, and he then has 30 days to sign legislation or to veto. This year, the General Assembly began moving bills to the governor's desk immediately upon passage.

Governor Schaefer said he plans to reintroduce his gun control measures next year despite their defeat this session. Both the proposed ban on military-style assault weapons and his child safety bill were killed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

One piece of safety-related legislation that has the governor less certain about what to do is a bill that would give state highway officials authority to raise the speed limit to 65 miles per hour. The measure, which was enacted by the legislature Monday, would affect about 160 miles of rural interstates.

Mr. Schaefer, who has opposed raising the speed limit in past years, said he hasn't decided what to do with the measure this year.

"I haven't made up my mind yet," said Mr. Schaefer, who recently toured the scene of an Interstate 95 accident where five people were killed in Cecil County. There is "heavy pressure to experiment," he said. "But on the other side, the police have not suggested that we raise the limit."

Among the bills signed into law yesterday was emergency legislation giving the state health department authority to leverage additional federal funds from the Medicaid program.

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