Children's Issues in the Legislature

April 23, 1993

This year's General Assembly session brought some gains for Maryland's children, but not all the news was good. On the positive side, the legislature approved plans to set up a separate Family Court to speed resolution of domestic cases, including custody disputes, child support enforcement and juvenile cases. Another new law gives the state power to authorize withholding of child support payments from the earnings of non-custodial parents to ensure smoother and more reliable collections.

The General Assembly also took steps to make it easier for children to get immunization shots. A bill awaiting the governor's signature allows parents to designate other adults to take children for their vaccinations. On a larger scale, the legislature's far-reaching health care reform should extend access to medical care to thousands of Maryland children who do not have insurance and, thus, no reliable care.

On the school front, one of the legislature's perennial battles has been the effort to extend a ban on corporal punishment throughout the state. In recent years, the practice has been legal in only a few counties, but for many child welfare advocates the issue has great symbolic importance. Thanks in large part to persistent efforts by Sen. Idamae Garrott, of Montgomery County, this year's bill was approved by both houses.

But on another front -- the crucial issue of equitable funding for schools -- the picture was mixed. In a special session last fall, the legislature took the tough step of eliminating its contribution to Social Security payments for local schools -- a practice that favored wealthier jurisdictions able to pay higher salaries.

In part to make that cut more palatable, the legislature this session trimmed back the increase in state aid designed to help ease funding disparities throughout the state. It then restored much of that funding through programs that disproportionately help wealthier jurisdictions, such as a bonus for schools with good attendance. As a one-time trade-off to make the Social Security cuts more palatable, the deal may be justifiable. But a renewed emphasis on equity funding for all jurisdictions should be a legislative priority next year.

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