Governor vows to push welfare 'family cap'

April 12, 1994|By Frank Langfitt Sun staff writers John A. Morris and Robert Timberg contributed to this article. | Frank Langfitt Sun staff writers John A. Morris and Robert Timberg contributed to this article.,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer vowed today to continue trying to institute a so-called "family cap" on Marylanders who receive welfare payments -- despite a General Assembly that in its final hours last night killed the measure.

The governor, obviously tired from a legislative session that treated administration proposals roughly, also said he might veto the welfare-reform bill that Assembly members did pass.

The welfare reform legislation was a key piece of administration agenda, and the resulting bill was a sharp reduction of what the governor had sought.

In the waning hours of the legislative session last night, lawmakers pulled out of a reform bill a so-called "family cap" provision that would have denied additional payments to women who conceived and bore more children while on the welfare rolls.

"I'm going to push as hard as I possibly can," the governor said today, to achieve the same end through procedures available under federal welfare requirements. Such steps have been available all along, but the administration sought legislative approval before applying the controversial measure.

Mr. Schaefer said the surviving components of the administration's bill that legislators passed were just improvements on the current system.

"The key was the cap," Mr. Schaefer said. "That's where the country is going."

Surveying the results of his final legislative session today, Mr. Schaefer found some solace in a handful of victories, but largely focused on the many defeats. Gone was the combative and defiant attitude he sometimes took toward the legislature during his eight years. Instead, his tone today was replaced by a resigned disappointment.

"So many of the bills I had an interest in went down the drain," the governor said. "We did not get many of the bills that would have made it a really excellent session."

AThe governor cited some victories. After three previous tries, he finally got the legislature to pass a ban on 18 types of assault pistols. Lawmakers also passed a bill that would put to a referendum this fall a constitutional amendment on crime victims' rights.

But after watching many of his initiatives either weakened or killed in the final hours last night, the governor dwelt largely on the defeats. One by one, he ticked off the dead bills: one that would have made it easier to adopt some foster care children, another that would have set up a statewide gambling commission, a third that would have imposed a cigarette tax.

Losing those bills, "is a sad commentary on all of us," the governor said.

He also criticized the General Assembly's powerful committee system, where chairmen can easily kill bills by just refusing to bring them up for a vote. That is what happened to a scholarship reform bill in the Senate that would have transferred the decision to award millions of dollars in college scholarships from legislators to an independent body.

"That's not the way the legislatoure or Congress should be run," the governor said. "That's wrong."

Lawmakers, cautious throughout this election-year session, played it safe to the end last night.

Governor Schaefer was not the only one unhappy with the welfare bill that was approved.

"You don't have a bill of substance without a family cap. . . . You're modifying some things, maybe putting a Band-Aid on," state Human Resources Secretary Carolyn W. Colvin told conferees.

The welfare bill as approved by the legislature still creates a pilot program for selected applicants in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. This provision is similar to legislation President Clinton has promised to deliver to Congress this spring in that it expands job training for persons on welfare and requires those still unemployed after 18 months to join a work program.

Another administration bill to limit the liability of landlords in lead-paint poisoning suits in exchange for their renovation of older rental units was approved last night after being weakened by amendments favoring the landlords. One reduced potential fines against them from $5,000 to $250, and another gives them more time to repair problems that expose children to lead paint poisoning.

Last night marked the end of a session in which the General Assembly enacted no new taxes or fees, gave the state's 80,000 employees their first pay raise in three years (3 percent or $800, whichever is greater), banned the sale of 18 assault pistols and set aside more than $100 million to build schools.

Midway in the final 14-hour day, a separate group of negotiators reached agreement on legislation to 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 -- later approved by both houses -- also attempts to make Maryland's parole commissioners accountable for their decisions by forcing them to open parole hearings if requested by the victim.

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