What's Left for the Legislature?

March 28, 1993

Just two weeks remain in this year's General Assembly session. It has been a quiet meeting, devoid of the bitter conflicts and brutal budget battles of recent years. Yet much remains to be accomplished. Here are five key unfinished items:

* Health-care reform. Both House and Senate have approved steps to help small businesses offer health insurance to employees and to establish a commission on health-care costs. But there is dispute on how to bring down medical costs, especially the issue of limiting a physician's charges.

This is too important to get bogged down in a House-Senate stand-off. A bill that helps more of Maryland's 660,000 uninsured citizens gain health-care coverage is essential. Neither bill is a panacea; but lawmakers ought to put Maryland on the road to health-care reform.

* Tougher auto emissions standards. This state has one of the worst ozone problems in the country. It now has to cut pollution emissions by 15 percent by 1997 to meet federal standards. This makes it imperative that automobile pollution, which accounts for over 60 percent of ozone-forming emissions, be curbed. If the effort fails, the state will have no choice but to require costly emission reductions from local industries.

House and Senate versions differ. We prefer that Maryland be allowed to implement its program without waiting for neighboring states to act first, as a Senate committee has proposed. But the most important thing is to get on the books a long-term plan for cutting auto emissions.

* An expanded Baltimore Convention Center. There is no more important economic development proposal this year. Without this key expansion, convention business could plunge by 47 percent, which would be a death blow for some hotels and cost the state tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues. But with an expansion, the center is likely to add 70 percent more business, enough to pay for the $150 million project and still leave the state with millions more in extra tax revenue. It is a win-win proposition for legislators.

* Establish a gambling commission. Too much unregulated and unpoliced gambling is permitted here. Legislators must act now to set up a state panel to ensure these games are run fairly and that the millions spent on gambling are handled responsibly and legally. Unless the General Assembly has the courage to rein-in wide-open gambling, Maryland could become a mecca for even more questionable gaming activities.

* Tougher child-support laws. Lawmakers should pass Schaefer initiatives against deadbeat dads. Requiring parents to take more responsibility for their children and increasing the state's ability to collect child support payments are common-sense steps that every legislator ought to endorse before the General Assembly adjourns sine die on the evening of April 12.

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