Saying even he will try to stay within the legal speed limit, Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed a controversial bill today that would have allowed a speed limit increase from 55 to 65 mph on certain rural highways.
The governor's decision on the bill, as well as on about 200 other measures passed by the General Assembly, came in Annapolis during the third and final bill-signing ceremony following the 1991 session.
On other issues, the governor signed into law a bill that would close loopholes in a current statute that allows government agencies to conduct some of their business in secret. He also let a tax bill raising about $90 million annually become law, though he did not sign it.
Schaefer said he vetoed the speed limit bill because he feared that more traffic deaths and injuries would occur if more people were to drive faster.
"I think as governor it's my responsibility to try to keep the roads as safe as possible," he said. Schaefer admitted that he has been driven in his state-owned car above the legal speed limit.
But now, "I'm going to try to stay at 55," he said.
Administration aides said Schaefer, who has opposed raising the 55 mph maximum speed limit in the past, had always leaned against signing the bill even though he agreed to hear arguments on both sides of the issue at a special veto hearing Tuesday at the State House.
Representatives of insurance and traffic safety groups urged the governor to veto the bill, charging that more highway deaths and injuries had occurred in states that raised the speed limit.
Proponents of the bill, including sponsor Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery, argued that many motorists ignore the 55 mph limit and drive at higher speeds. They said the 65 mph limit could improve highway safety by leading to a more uniform rate of speed.
Dembrow's bill would have allowed transportation officials to increase the speed limit on an experimental basis on portions of highways in Western and Central Maryland and in some of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.
The so-called open-meetings law met strong opposition from lobbyists during the session, but Schaefer signed it.
"People have to have confidence in government," he said today.
Schaefer's approval of the open-meetings bill, a measure he had repeatedly opposed, came after a meeting he had Tuesday in Annapolis with newspaper editors representing a coalition of media outfits who fought for the revised statute.
Aides said yesterday the governor agreed to sign the bill partly because neither the Maryland Association of Counties nor the Maryland Municipal League -- two groups who represent local governments and who opposed the bill during the session -- had asked him to veto it.
Although he refused to sign the only tax bill passed by the General Assembly, Schaefer will allow the measure to become law by not specifically vetoing it. The state constitution mandates that bills neither signed nor vetoed by the governor become law, usually on July 1 if no other date has been specified. By taking no action on a bill passed by the General Assembly, the governor can show his displeasure without stopping it from becoming law.
While the legislature killed the governor's proposed $800 million tax measure, it passed its own mini-tax bill to raise about $90 million annually. The bill repeals the state sales tax on cigarettes and certain food items, increases the tobacco tax from 13 cents to 16 cents per package of cigarettes and modifies current exemptions of the state capital gains tax.
The bill will take effect June 1 to provide about $5.7 million in new revenues for public assistance programs in the current fiscal year.
Today, Schaefer also signed measures to expand Maryland's seat belt and automobile inspection laws, place new limits on campaign financing and provide more scholarship funds for low-income students.
The governor vetoed two bills that would have kept open the Lida Lee Tall Learning Resources Center, an experimental elementary school at Towson State University. He offered no explanation for the vetoes.
Under changes in the seat belt law, children will have to be strapped into safety seats until they reach the age of 4 years instead of 3 as under the current law. Children not in safety seats will have to wear seat belts until they reach age 10.
The new election laws are designed to reduce the role lobbyists and political action committees play in financing elections.
One law prohibits lobbyists from forming PACs or helping raise money for candidates. Another limits to $6,000 the amount that PACs can give to an individual candidate. There is no limit under current law.