Schaefer's Remaining Tasks

April 17, 1994

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's final legislative session didn't turn out the way he had intended. Thanks to an election-year mood in the General Assembly -- particularly in the state Senate -- few of the governor's major proposals survived. It was a bitterly disappointing setback for Mr. Schaefer, a setback that obscured a long list of significant and far-sighted proposals the governor pushed through the legislature in his previous seven sessions.

Still, not all was doom and gloom. A modest gun-control bill banning 18 types of assault pistols was approved on the governor's fourth try. A bill tightening controls on cigarette sales to minors was weakened but finally passed. The ban on year-round schools was lifted. A proposal to reduce auto thefts gained passage on its second try. And permission was granted to compile a DNA data base of convicted sex offenders.

Greatly diluted Schaefer bills were also approved to start a pilot welfare "workfare" program, to make it easier to collect child support payments and to clean up lead paint in older rental buildings. Not bad for a lame duck governor, but Mr. Schaefer sets high standards for himself. By his scoring (and ours) this session came up short -- through no fault of his own. No increase in the tobacco tax. No state gambling commission. No speed-up of death penalty appeals. No "family cap" on welfare payouts. No easing of adoption procedures. No state takeover of federal nontidal wetlands jurisdiction.

Now Mr. Schaefer has to look beyond the failures of his last legislative session to his remaining nine months in office. He is still this state's governor and he retains substantial powers that can be put to good use.

His most immediate concern is deciding which bills to sign and which to veto. Mr. Schaefer's verdicts won't be overturned, either: There can be no veto-overrides in the first year of a newly elected legislature. He has already talked about vetoing the weakened welfare reform bill because it is so watered-down. The governor also ought to reject the "English only" bill that passed the legislature: It serves no practical purpose except to fan the flames of bigotry toward immigrants.

Mr. Schaefer also has substantial power to implement changes through executive orders, appointments and through the actions the Board of Public Works. There is much that the governor can still achieve before he leaves office. And that includes paving the way for a National Football League team to move to the Camden Yards sports complex. This governor may have completed his last legislative session, but the final chapter of Don Schaefer's Annapolis years is still being written.

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