Gov. William Donald Schaefer today was expected to veto a controversial bill that would allow state transportation officials to increase the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph on certain rural highways, according to sources.
The governor's decision on the bill, as well as on about 200 other measures passed by the General Assembly, was expected this morning in Annapolis during the third and final bill-signing ceremony following the 1991 session.
On other issues, the governor was expected to sign into law a bill that would close loopholes in a current statute that allows government bodies to conduct some of their business in secret. The so-called open-meetings law met strong opposition from lobbyists during the session, but Schaefer was expected to sign it although he has personal misgivings about the measure, according to State House sources.
Although he reportedly was to not sign the only tax bill passed by the General Assembly, Schaefer was expected to 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 with the measure without stopping it from becoming law.
Sources said Schaefer, who has opposed raising the 55 mph maximum speed limit in the past, was leaning against signing the bill even though he agreed to hear arguments on both sides of the issue at a special veto hearing in the State House on Tuesday.
Representatives of insurance and traffic safety groups urged the governor to veto the bill, charging that states where the speed limit was raised experienced an increase in highway deaths and injuries.
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.
Schaefer's expected approval of the open-meetings bill, a measure he repeatedly opposed, followed a meeting he had Tuesday in Annapolis with newspaper editors representing a coalition of media outfits who had fought for the revised statute.
Sources said 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 opposed the bill during the session -- requested him to veto it.
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, which will become law even without the lTC governor's signature, 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 become effective June 1, lawmakers decided, in order to provide about $5.7 million in new revenues for public assistance programs in the current fiscal year.
Today, Schaefer was expected also to sign 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 changes in the seat belt law apply mainly to children under 10. 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 the age of 10.