Title companies regroup for House battle

IN ESCROW

March 16, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS — An article in yesterday's MBW section incorrectly named the committee that passed a bill to create an affordable housing trust funded by title company escrow interest. The state Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee passed the bill.

ANNAPOLIS -- Bits and pieces:

Title companies. Having lost the fight in the Senate to hang onto their escrow interest, title companies now are focusing their battle on the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill that passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week would require title companies to give the interest they earn on client escrow accounts to a newly created Maryland Affordable Housing Trust.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The bill has passed the Senate but failed in the House committee each of the last four years.

At a hearing last week, after a score of housing advocates detailed the extent of Maryland's homeless problems, title company lobbyists testified against House Bill 1255.

MA Pressing the argument that the bill would lead to higher home

closing costs, the title companies acknowledged the "bad guy" role their opposition to an affordable housing trust gives them.

But they said they would recommend alternative funding sources. Privately they worry that the bill's time may have come.

*

Health care. Recognizing there was no chance a fundamental reform of Maryland's health care system would survive this year, the House Economic Matters Committee passed a much-watered-down version.

House Bill 376 calls for a task force to come up with a major reform bill by next year.

The task force would explore the possibility of a universal access system, and the feasibility of one based on Blue Cross and Blue Shield's "consumer choice" format. But it wouldn't be limited to that approach.

*

Insurance. The governor's proposal to create an independent insurance administration, funded in part by the insurance industry, has passed the House, but hasn't been voted on by the Senate Finance Committee.

As a form of insurance for the plan, the House Economic Matters Committee killed a bill that would allow the current insurance division to continue past July 1. They hope that will put pressure on Senate Finance to pass the governor's plan, if only as a vehicle to keep the insurance division alive.

It's weak insurance at best, because just about any other insurance-related bill could be amended to retain the division.

*

Punitive damages. Having passed the House by a decisive margin, House Bill 329, which would restrict punitive damage awards in lawsuits, moves to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The early line is that seven committee members are opposed and six in favor. But the hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, and lobbying is just beginning.

*

Prevailing wage. Despite great anxiety by labor unions, and extra pressure from non-union contractors, and despite the argument

that millions in state revenues were at stake, all prevailing-wage bills have died. The bills would have repealed the law that requires contractors to pay a state-determined wage to workers on state projects.

*

SLAPP suits. Community groups that protest development projects sought legislation to protect themselves from harassing lawsuits. Those efforts are dead, for all intents and purposes.

The problem, according to the bills' sponsors, was trying to come up with a solid definition of "SLAPP," the acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, that would hold up in court.

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