One More Day in the State House

April 10, 1994

This year's General Assembly session ends tomorrow at midnight. Before the 188 senators and delegates return to their redrawn districts and start campaigning for re-election, they had better attend to business. Four major items ought to be resolved before these legislators leave Annapolis.

Welfare reform. This could easily prove the most divisive issue of the final day. Two controversial provisions have inflamed passions: a cap on welfare payments based on family size and a less restrictive abortion policy for poor women on Medicaid. Linking these two was supposed to ease passage of the bill. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer's strategy may actually have the opposite effect. Both liberals and conservatives are upset.

Still, lawmakers ought to support this reform package. Encouraging poor women to limit the size of their family while on welfare is a sensible step, but only if these women are given a full range of family planning options, including the right to public funding for abortions. Together, these moves could bring home the message that welfare was never intended to be a permanent way of life.

Tobacco tax. Maryland's reputation as a state with a high rate of cancer can be traced to high cigarette smoking here. Discouraging cigarette consumption through higher taxes has worked in the past, especially for young teen smokers.

An amended bill backed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, would link any rise in Maryland's cigarette tax to rises in the federal tobacco tax, up to a maximum of 25 cents a pack. The measure, though, gains most of its credibility from its preventive-health implications: a sharp drop in smoking is almost certain to lower this state's cancer rates in the long run and cut down on illnesses for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.

Gambling. Impediments remain for the governor's proposed +V statewide gambling commission, despite the fact that more and more responsible officials admit that gambling is on the verge of spinning out of control in Maryland. Obstructionist lawmakers ought to be pushed aside so that legislators can vote on the governor's plan.

Meanwhile, the dangerous casino situation in Prince George's County must be brought under control. At the least, no volunteer or charitable group should be allowed to pay salaries to casino workers -- unless Maryland wants to see Prince George's overrun by professional operatives masquerading as charitable enterprises. Regulation, accountability and oversight are essential.

Health care. Attempts by the medical society and other medical providers to weaken Maryland's new health-care regulatory commission and the state's health maintenance organizations should be stopped cold. If they succeed, the impact on Maryland's pioneering efforts to rein-in health-care costs and expand coverage could be devastating.

We urge legislators to make the most of their final day in Annapolis. It is their last chance to impress voters with the quality of their work.

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