General Assembly faces a full final-day agenda Votes expected on convention center, capital budget

April 12, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Like students cramming for a final exam, Maryland legislators will try frantically to finish their work today before the stroke of midnight ends their 1993 session.

Lawmakers already have sent to the governor landmark health insurance reform and a law to control pollution from cars. But, as often happens, they have left work on some major issues for the last day.

Their agenda today includes voting on the $150 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center and the $350 million capital budget to build schools, prisons and recreational facilities across the state.

The construction budget is usually approved earlier in the legislative session, but this year it became backed up behind the convention center project. House and Senate negotiators finally agreed on how to finance the expansion Saturday night, but the project's future is by no means assured.

That's because anything is possible on the last day of a legislative session. Any pending bill can be doomed by a last-minute power play by either house, a Senate filibuster, pressure from interest groups or just plain lack of time. Every year bills fail simply because midnight arrives before lawmakers can vote on them.

"Unpredictable things can happen on the last day of the session," said Bruce C. Bereano, the highest paid lobbyist in Annapolis.

But one thing is virtually certain: The legislative session will end on time. Lawmakers have no reason to repeat their extraordinary action of last year, when they extended the session past its 90-day limit. Unlike last year, the 1993 legislature passed its operating budget on time and had no tax plan to fight over.

Mr. Bereano, who represents the Tobacco Institute, hopes to win a battle of his own today against anti-smoking forces or, as he calls them, "the health police."

The subject of his concern is a Schaefer administration bill that raises the fines for selling cigarettes to children and makes it clear that counties and cities may adopt tougher anti-smoking laws. It's the second part that has the tobacco industry gnashing its teeth.

Mr. Bereano succeeded earlier in getting the House to delete the part about local jurisdictions, but he fears the House might cave in to pressure from the Senate to restore that provision.

Legislators also are scheduled to decide the fate of several other bills supported by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

One would crack down on parents who don't pay child support. The other would increase the state's power over Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.

The stakes are high on the child support bill, which would make it easier for one parent, usually the mother, to collect child support from the other.

If the measure dies, the state stands to lose $30 million in federal funds in January for failing to conform to federal guidelines, said Richard Montgomery, a lobbyist for the governor.

The House and Senate agree on two parts of the bill. One would make it easier for authorities to withhold child support payments from paychecks, while the other would require the reporting of delinquent parents to credit agencies.

The sticking point is whether a father should be asked to acknowledge his paternity at the hospital, soon after his child's birth, if he is not married to the mother. The Senate likes the idea because it could save the state money in welfare payments that otherwise would be spent if the father leaves the family destitute and claims the child is not his.

The Blue Cross bill on today's agenda would give the state much more control over the nonprofit health insurance company.

The measure was proposed by former Insurance Commissioner John A. Donaho as a means of assuring the company's solvency in the wake of questions about its financial health. More than a million Marylanders have Blue Cross policies. The governor fired Mr. Donaho last week, in part for threatening to put the Blues into insolvency if that bill failed.

Two pending bills are of particular interest to those who live or work in Baltimore.

The first would allow gambling on international cruise ships in Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore hopes more ships will pick its port as a destination if Maryland waters are gambler-friendly.

Baltimore lawmakers like the idea because the ships carry hundreds of tourists who could be persuaded to spend money in Baltimore while the ship is docked.

The second bill would give the mayor and City Council the authority to ban liquor advertising on billboards in Baltimore. The Senate is expected to pass it today.

Also pending today is legislation to make stalking a specific crime. One version would make it a felony, while the other would classify it as a misdemeanor.

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