When state legislators returned to Annapolis in early January they were a bit frazzled after three years of marathon sessions, budget deficits and painful battles over taxes, abortion and redistricting. Yet once the adrenalin started to flow, lawmakers enacted a number of forward-looking bills before last night's adjournment. It turned out to be the most productive 90-day session of recent years.
Capping this year's General Assembly meeting was yesterday's overwhelming approval of a $150 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, a key economic development project. It will mean millions in state taxes and 6,000 permanent jobs. The broad support for the project showed that the parochialism of recent sessions had dissipated. Substantive issues were addressed without lawmakers first worrying, "what's in it for me?"
Foremost among the legislature's achievements was passage of a health-care reform bill aimed at making medical insurance affordable and available, curbing the rise in doctors' fees and zTC reining-in medical malpractice costs. A Health Care Access and Cost Commission is the key element in collecting data, mandating basic insurance packages and pinpointing exorbitant physician charges.
Other medical experts are encouraged by a bill outlawing self-referrals of patients by physicians who also are part-owners of clinics or laboratories. Abuses in this area never should have been tolerated by the medical society in the first place.
A third bright spot was passage of a "right to die" bill making it possible for patients and families, in certain circumstances, to have a say in deciding when to end life-sustaining treatment.
Legislators also heeded warnings of state regulators and beefed up the insurance commissioner's office to avoid a loss of accreditation. Though Insurance Commissioner John Donaho was fired by Gov. William Donald Schaefer for being too blunt in his criticisms, lawmakers still abided by Mr. Donaho's wishes and passed a bill giving the next insurance commissioner broad powers to crack down on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.
For the governor, it was a first-rate session. Most of his preventive health and education programs were approved. On the third attempt, he won passage of his clean-air "California car" bill to force Detroit to sell less-polluting cars in Maryland. Of course, Mr. Schaefer didn't win on every issue, but he came away a big winner.
There were, of course, a number of low points. Delegates still don't understand why the public was outraged when lawmakers tried to ram through the judicial nomination of former Del. John S. Arnick in the face of his alleged sexual comments. Senators, for their part, don't understand why the public is furious they refused to abolish their college scholarship program.
But given the pessimism among lawmakers when the session began, the final product looks surprisingly fruitful. As they return home, legislators can take pride in what they accomplished.