Schaefer pushes agenda

April 08, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Robert Timberg contributed to this article.

In a rare personal appeal to legislators, Gov. William Donald Schaefer asked a Senate committee yesterday to clamp down on casino nights, bingo parlors, tip jars, slot machines and other operations that make up Maryland's multimillion-dollar legal gambling industry.

Mr. Schaefer visited the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee ZTC in an attempt to save a proposal to set up a state commission to license and oversee most forms of charitable gambling, as well as commercial bingo parlors.

"There is no question there is a problem," the governor told the committee, hoping to sway Sen. Walter M. Baker, the powerful Eastern Shore lawmaker who chairs the committee and opposes the gambling commission bill.

Too often, Mr. Schaefer said, the proceeds from gambling sponsored by nonprofit organizations do not end up in the pockets of the charities the gambling is supposed to benefit. "It's gotten entirely out of hand. The proceeds aren't being distributed the way they are supposed to be," he said.

But Mr. Baker seemed neither convinced nor particularly pressured by Mr. Schaefer's appearance, nor in any hurry to bring the bill up for a vote. He treated the governor politely but made it clear he did not agree with him.

For Mr. Schaefer, who is in the final days of his final session, the gambling commission fight is only one of several he is waging.

He is still working behind the scenes, for instance, to persuade skittish lawmakers to approve a tax increase on cigarettes, summoning individual senators to his State House office in an attempt to sell the idea as a health measure rather than a tax increase.

While he has given up on his initial plan to raise the state tax by 25 cents a pack, he now is trying to ensure that any time Congress raises the federal tobacco tax, Maryland's tobacco tax will also increase automatically.

He has allied himself with women legislators to try to persuade the House Judiciary Committee to bend its own rules and revive a bill that would make it easier for foster children to be adopted.

And he is pulling out the stops to save his welfare reform proposal, even demonstrating a willingness to lift restrictions on state-funded abortions for poor women if that is what it takes to preserve the bill's central element: a proposed statewide ban on additional payments to welfare mothers who conceive and bear more children while on public assistance.

Mr. Schaefer has only one long weekend left to fight for these measures. The General Assembly ends its 90-day session at midnight Monday.

On the gambling bill, the governor knows Mr. Baker's reluctance is based, in large part, on the popularity of slot machine gambling in veterans and fraternal clubs on the Eastern Shore.

In appearing before a legislative committee for only the second time this session, the governor brought with him the superintendent of state police, the secretary of public safety and correctional services, and two delegates and a senator who have been pushing hard for the gambling bill.

Backers said the seven-member commission would require uniform financial reporting from a variety of gambling operations now regulated locally or not regulated at all. Among them: the Eastern Shore slot machines; so-called "tip jars" in Western Maryland; and casino nights in Prince George's County. Commercial bingo operations also would be regulated.

Bingo events run by nonprofit groups would be exempted, as would raffles, books of chance, wheels of fortune and similar gambling by nonprofits.

Del. Gary R. Alexander, a Prince George's County Democrat who served on the gubernatorial task force that recommended the statewide commission, emphasized that the proposed legislation would not outlaw any gambling activities that are now legal. Most charitable organizations, he said, support the bill.

"The bottom line is, this bill does not hurt existing charities," he said.

The problem, he said, is that local enforcement is not working and financial reporting has become "a hodgepodge of local laws and all kinds of a mishmash of what's going on."

But Senator Baker said casino gambling in Prince George's was a much bigger problem than slot machines on the Shore. He said he preferred his own more limited bill to regulate the reporting from slot machine operations to the governor's more comprehensive approach.

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