Rough on governor to end His bills in trouble as legislature nears its close

April 12, 1994|By John W. Frece and Marina Sarris | John W. Frece and Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Frank Langfitt, John A. Morris and Robert Timberg contributed to this article.

Maryland lawmakers, cautious throughout this election year session, played it safe to the end last night, preparing to pass a bill to make it tougher on violent criminals but threatening to kill or water down virtually every other important measure that might offend one interest group or another.

Showing no mercy for Gov. William Donald Schaefer in his final legislative session, the lawmakers killed or appeared ready to kill three of his major proposals: bills to regulate gambling, to raise the tax on cigarettes, and to speed up the death penalty appeals process.

Two other administration bills -- a welfare reform proposal and another to limit the liability of landlords in lead-paint poisoning suits in exchange for their renovation of older rental units -- were still in limbo, being picked apart by opponents as the session steadily ticked toward a midnight adjournment.

Midway in their final 14-hour day, House and Senate conferees reached agreement on a legislation that would require violent offenders to serve at least half of their sentence before they could be paroled, rather than the current one-fourth. State officials have said about 500 of Maryland's 20,000 inmates would remain in prison longer.

The measure -- still awaiting a final vote late last night -- also would attempt to make Maryland's parole commissioners accountable for their decisions by forcing them to open parole hearings if requested by the victim.

The legislation also would create a new two-time-loser law that would require criminals to receive a minimum mandatory 10-year sentence on their second conviction for a violent crime.

The changes would be expected to add an estimated $29 million a year to state prison costs, and require construction of a $92 million prison by 1998. But Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, the Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the state has little choice. "I think the public wants protection from crime and they don't mind paying for it."

The fate of the governor's welfare-reform bill also was in question in the session's final hours. Lawmakers were trying to determine they could delete a contentious, bill-threatening provision that would penalize welfare mothers who have additional children while on public assistance and still put into place a meaningful reform program. Tied to the so-called family cap was a move to lift restrictions on when the state's Medicaid program may pay for abortions for poor women.

"It's a deadlock right now," one of the conferees, Sen. James C. Simpson, a Charles Democrat, said last night.

Earlier in the day, the six negotiators agreed to beef up job training and family-assistance provisions to assist women participating in a pilot program that would require them to find work or perform community service after 18 months on the rolls.

Although the governor said last week that the bill was "not effective" without the cap on grants to recipients who have more children, key House and Senate members insist that a number of other provisions, including the proposed rules regarding work, would make passage of the measure an important achievement.

The pilot program, which would affect selected applicants in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, also includes provisions to encourage two-parent families and to permit a larger accumulation of assets than normally permitted welfare recipients.

Even without the cap, Mr. Schaefer's bill was similar to legislation President Clinton has promised to deliver to Congress this spring in that it would expand job training for persons on welfare and require those still unemployed after a time to join a work program.

Maryland would thus be testing in three jurisdictions ideas that the president is looking to impose nationally.

Legislation to establish a statewide commission to license and regulate slot machines, tip jars, casino nights and other forms of legal gambling by veterans groups, fraternal clubs and volunteer fire companies was defeated by the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday morning before the full House and Senate had even convened.

Two other measures, one to repeal the General Assembly's scandal-tinged legislative scholarship program and the other to require lobbyists with multiple clients to provide greater disclosure of the meals and gifts they lavish on lawmakers, died without ever coming up for a vote in the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The tax proposal linking the state-and-federal cigarette taxes, a substitute for Mr. Schaefer's original 25-cents-a-pack tax increase, was opposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and by other legislators who wanted no part of raising taxes in a year in which they will later meet voters at the polls.

A bill heavily lobbied by doctors that would require health-maintenance organizations to pay part of the cost for patients who seek medical care outside of their HMO network also appeared headed for defeat last night.

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