Governor again scoring victories From Norplant to budget measures, he's doing well for a lame duck

March 28, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

The governor's plan to give Norplant to poor women passed with surprising ease. His budget escaped virtually unscathed. One of his gun control bills is on the move, and at least part of his crackdown on "deadbeat parents" appears headed for final approval.

All in all, for a lame-duck governor whose popularity peaked years ago, William Donald Schaefer is not having a bad year.

Although he's not winning the victories he did during his first term -- when a voter mandate swept him into office -- he's not suffering the losses he did at the start of his second term in 1991.

He seems to have weathered the severe drop in both his popularity and the Maryland economy in the two years since then.

"He's doing better this year than in the past two years because some of the personality issues are behind him," said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington County.

Mr. Schaefer has managed to keep his famous temper and penchant for quirky behavior largely under wraps for most of the 90-day session, which concludes April 12.

"He's dealing with the legislators better than he has in the past. It's easier to get along with him," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee.

This is not to say that all has been sweetness and light for Maryland's mercurial governor.

His bill to ban semiautomatic assault pistols was dead before it was drafted. His attempt to deprive underage drinkers of their driver's licenses met with a swift death, as did his bill to change the way the state collects data on people who have the AIDS virus.

He has been more successful on other issues this winter, most notably his $1 million plan to offer Norplant contraceptives to poor women and vasectomies to ex-convicts. The family-planning initiative drew early fire from black legislators who feared that the measures were targeted at low-income African-Americans.

But the governor managed to smooth ruffled feathers, and the Senate and House of Delegates approved funds for the program without much conflict.

Although lawmakers cut more than $200 million from Mr. Schaefer's $12.7 billion budget request, they did so without harming the vast majority of the programs the governor wanted to be funded. Proposals to expand prekindergarten classes and restore health care programs, for example, survived the cuts.

Mr. Schaefer will likely have the chance to sign into law at least two provisions in his proposed crackdown on parents who don't pay child support. One would require that delinquent parents be reported to credit agencies, while the other would make it easier for authorities to withhold money from their paychecks.

Another provision, aimed at documenting the paternity of children born to single women, died in the House but could resurface when differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill are hammered out.

The governor hopes the measure will save the state money it otherwise would have spent providing welfare benefits for those children.

Another significant feather in the governor's cap may be his bill to regulate the sale of handguns and assault weapons at gun shows. The proposal passed Senate and House committees last week and appears to be on the fast track for final approval.

But the governor, who throughout his career has often seemed to be dissatisfied with anything less than an overwhelming success, saw some of his proposals fail in a big way.

For the second year in a row, the Schaefer administration failed to convince the legislature to allow the state to keep confidential lists of people who have the AIDS virus. Health department officials said they needed victims' names so they could keep accurate statistics and fight the epidemic more effectively.

Critics, however, again persuaded lawmakers that many Marylanders would refuse to take AIDS tests if the state kept a record of their names.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who often finds himself at odds with the governor, said he believes the administration might have scored more wins if it had focused its lobbying efforts better.

"There is a noticeable lack of focus on legislative issues by the administration," Mr. Miller said.

Some lawmakers said it is too early to gauge the level of success the governor will enjoy this session. As the pace picks up in the final days,almost anything could happen.

Many important bills in the governor's ambitious agenda are "up in the air," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist.

The Schaefer administration's attempt to reduce polluting emissions from cars -- a top priority for many environmentalists -- is a prime example.

The legislation would require Maryland car dealers to sell special low-emission vehicles, like the ones available in California, if enough neighboring states follow suit. Lobbyists for car manufacturers and the oil industry are fighting the bill vigorously as the Senate prepares to take a final vote this week.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.