Schaefer hurtles into his final session at full speed Guns, cigarettes, welfare top issues

January 14, 1994|By Marina Sarris and Robert Timberg | Marina Sarris and Robert Timberg,Staff Writers

Refusing to go quietly, Gov. William Donald Schaefer plunged into his last legislative session yesterday by declaring war on guns and cigarettes while proposing to limit welfare for people who won't work or who keep having children.

Saying it was not his style to coast out of office, the governor outlined an ambitious legislative agenda in his eighth and final State of the State address to the Maryland General Assembly.

He renewed his call for a ban on the sale of assault pistols while proposing measures that would nearly triple the number of guns that require a seven-day waiting period before purchase, severely limit the number of guns people could buy each month and outlaw high-capacity ammunition magazines.

He took on the powerful tobacco lobby with proposals to attack smoking among youths and to make Maryland the second-highest taxer of cigarettes in the nation.

"People said to me this year, 'Don't put in a lot of bills. Take it easy,' " Mr. Schaefer said. "I don't believe we should take it easy. That's not what we were sent here for."

With a more receptive mood nationally and at home, Mr. Schaefer plans to submit the most sweeping package of gun control bills of his gubernatorial career.

One measure would dramatically increase the number of guns subject to the seven-day waiting period, from 24 to between 64 and 70, Schaefer aides said.

Another, modeled on a 1993 Virginia law, would limit the number of regulated firearms a person could buy to one a month. "This does not include shotguns or rifles and won't hurt hunters," the governor said.

Other measures would ban the sale of 18 types of military-style semiautomatic assault pistols and increase penalties for illegal gun sales.

For three years, a Senate committee has killed Mr. Schaefer's bills to ban the sale of assault weapons, but the governor told legislators, all of whom are up for re-election, that the mood of Maryland voters is shifting.

"An overwhelming number of Marylanders want tougher gun laws. All you have to do is read your paper," he said, an apparent reference to a recent Washington Post poll. The newspaper found that half of the Maryland residents polled in December said they supported banning the sale of all handguns and that two-thirds favored banning the sale of semiautomatic weapons.

To hammer home the point, the governor said he would have a flag outside the State House lowered to half-staff each day there is a gun-related killing in Maryland during the legislative session.

ZTC His proposals received a boost yesterday when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said the full Senate would get the chance to vote on gun control, though the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chairman was suggesting otherwise.

Legislators who favor gun control said they were more optimistic than before that some significant measure would pass this year.

"I think [Mr. Schaefer] hit the No. 1 issue on the head: crime," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat. Last year, he said, people were more worried about jobs, but "now they're saying, 'I don't want to be robbed or shot.' "

Unwilling to relinquish a stage he has commanded for seven years, Mr. Schaefer rejected a lame-duck label while warning legislators that their re-election hopes might depend on their performance this session.

"So when you call me a lame duck, look at your own wing," he said.

The governor began his address with a list of joint administration-legislative accomplishments in previous years, imparting a trace of nostalgia and melancholy to the occasion.

Then, he abruptly switched gears, declaring, "Of course, our work is not finished."

With that, he outlined a broad, no-nonsense program that afterward won cheers from some and boos from others, but in no way resembled a swan song.

In addition to his attack on guns, Mr. Schaefer proposed a 25-cent-a-pack increase in the excise tax on cigarettes "to discourage smoking and generate money that will be used, in part, to help children."

The additional tax revenue -- $70 million to be exact -- would be used to pay for programs that would be difficult for lawmakers to reject. "He's picked the most popular programs," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's County.

The biggest portion, $25 million, would help financially strapped local governments pay for required health, education and public safety programs. An additional $24 million would be used to help public schools in poverty stricken areas, expand pre-kindergarten programs and help students who speak other languages to learn English.

The biggest winner would be Baltimore, which would receive $8.6 million, followed by Montgomery County, with almost $8.5 million. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties would receive more than $1 million each.

Most of the rest of the money would go for services for developmentally disabled Marylanders, a group that is coming to depend more and more on the state's resources.

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