Assembly achievements

April 12, 1993

There's no doubt the shining moment in this year's General Assembly session, which ends this evening, took place last Thursday when lawmakers enacted far-reaching health-care legislation designed to broaden access to medical insurance and force down the soaring cost of medical treatment. It was a monumental achievement.

Doubts still loom large over the health-care measure, though. Will it prove effective in extending affordable coverage to the 600,000 uninsured Marylanders? Will it act to rein-in doctors' fees? Will it lower malpractice insurance costs? The steps outlined in the bill are largely experimental. Maryland has launched itself on a bold, new adventure in managing health care.

This state is now in the forefront of efforts to improve the existing system and wring some of the excess costs out of it. But after the Clinton administration unveils its own health-care strategy next month and after Congress finishes re-shaping the plan to its liking, Maryland legislators will have to fine-tune their own statute. Still, there was a strong consensus in Annapolis that lawmakers had to do something this session to get a handle on the medical care dilemma.

Legislators also felt compelled to do something about Maryland's polluted air. They approved, on the third try, a Schaefer administration plan to require less-polluting cars in Maryland later this decade. But opponents weakened the bill so the measure doesn't take effect until surrounding states have also adopted the so-called California car standards. The measure does hold out hope, though, that this state may yet avoid federal clean-air restrictions that could discourage industry from locating in the Baltimore-Washington region.

For Gov. William Donald Schaefer, it was a most productive session. The majority of his proposals won approval. He focused new initiatives on prevention programs in education, health and social services. Mr. Schaefer also won his fight to regulate the sale of weapons at gun shows, another small step on the road to a sane gun-control policy.

Sadly, there were more than a few dark moments. Delegates and a number of senators made fools out of themselves trying to push through the judicial nomination of former Del. John S. Arnick, despite accusations that he had made disparaging and unjudicial remarks about women. They just didn't understand the public furor. Nor did senators understand the public's anger over continuation of the $7 million legislative scholarship program, a political perk of enormous benefit for lawmakers seeking re-election.

And while legislators talked a good game about wanting to reform government and make it less costly, they refused to take their own rhetoric seriously. All efforts to reorganize, downsize, privatize or rationalize the bureaucracy were buried. It was a low point in a General Assembly session that, when the final gavel sounds at midnight, could rank as one of the best in recent years.

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