Schaefer signs 209 bills into law mere 11 draw veto Legislative leadership foresees no override fight

May 25, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislative leaders who had feared that an angry Gov. William Donald Schaefer might bury them in a blizzard of vetoed legislation seemed relieved yesterday when his list of vetoed bills turned into little more than a mild flurry of gubernatorial rejection.

Mr. Schaefer signed into law 209 bills, including major reform of the state's open meetings law. He vetoed only 11 bills (plus one line-item capital appropriation) for policy reasons, none of them likely to prompt the General Assembly to mount a veto-override campaign. In a subtle protest, he also let the legislature's budget-balancing tax increase go into effect without his signature.

The vetoes included a bill that would have permitted speed limits on rural interstate highways to be raised to 65 mph -- a measure Mr. Schaefer said would lead to more traffic fatalities and serious injuries and would mean the use of more gasoline at a time when fuel should be conserved.

Also vetoed were measures to permit foot doctors to treat ankle injuries; to provide a $500,000 subsidy to keep in operation the Lida Lee Tall Learning Resources Center at Towson State University; and to permit the Department of the Environment to impose administrative penalties on sewage treatment plants that are in significant violation of discharge limits.

The governor also vetoed a bill that would require the state government to print on both sides of sheets of paper whenever duplicating or photocopying 10 or more pages. Mr. Schaefer praised the intent of the legislation but said it might be unworkable as drafted, and he promised to address the paper-conservation issue with an executive order.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, agreed that they saw no evidence of retaliatory vetoes from a governor they knew had been unhappy with the legislature for killing so many of his bills.

"I think he had justification for all his vetoes," Mr. Mitchell said, although he added that he did not necessarily agree with the governor's decisions. "I don't see any [moves to override] at this point."

Mr. Miller said he believed that the governor had gone out of his way to avoid override fights. The only measure he said was even a candidate for an override was a bill to prohibit state employees who move into private business from benefiting financially from their prior connections with the state.

While much of the focus was on what Mr. Schaefer vetoed, the 209 bills he signed into law included measures to give teachers a greater say in the setting of educational or other standards for their profession and to establish 1,310 acres of state land in eastern Baltimore County as the North Point State Park and the )) Black Marsh Wildland.

In all, Mr. Schaefer now has signed 667 bills enacted by the 1991 General Assembly; let three others go into effect without his signature; vetoed 11 for policy reasons; and vetoed 83 others because they were duplicates of bills he had signed.

Showing his displeasure with the legislature's rejection of his own proposal to restructure the state's system of taxation, the governor refused to sign a bill passed by the General Assembly that raises $90 million in higher cigarette and capital gains taxes.

"The need for tax reform is still there. The need for a gas tax [increase] is still there. To delay it just puts something off that could have been handled in the first year of this administration," he said. "This bill really doesn't solve any of the problems."

He said he vetoed the bill involving administrative penalties for sewage discharge violations because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that an amendment to the bill was inconsistent with the federal Clean Water Act and could jeopardize future federal funds.

He vetoed the podiatry bill, he said, because of opposition from orthopedic surgeons, and because contradictory claims convinced him it would be prudent to take a more cautious approach. He said he has directed the state health department to look into the issue and develop a proposal.

Provisions of open meetings law

Among the bills signed into law yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer was Senate Bill 170, which strengthens Maryland's existing open meetings law.

Here are several of its major provisions:

* Has a delayed effective date of July 1, 1992.

* Creates a new three-member Open Meetings Compliance Board to determine whether the law has been violated.

* The Open Meetings Compliance Board is to develop a program to educate the public about the law.

* Permits a civil penalty of up to $100 against any member of a public body who knowingly and willfully participates in an illegally closed meeting of the body.

* Expands provisions of the current open meetings law to cover the meetings of any public body that is granting a license or permit, or is involved in a zoning matter.

* Stipulates that all or part of a public meeting may be videotaped, televised, photographed, broadcast or recorded, consistent with reasonable rules adopted by the public body.

* Permits public bodies to meet in closed sessions for a variety of specific reasons, including "performance evaluations" of employees or others.

* Deletes a previous exemption that permitted public bodies to close meetings for any reason as long as two-thirds of the members voted to do so.

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