Cautious General Assembly?

January 10, 1995

When nearly 44 percent of its members are newcomers, predicting what will happen is extraordinarily difficult. That's the case with the 1995 General Assembly, which begins its 90-day session in the State House tomorrow. With so many freshmen lawmakers, the tenor and direction of the legislature are wrapped in mystery.

The size of the incoming class of legislators is unmatched in modern times. Will that mean revolutionary changes, or extreme caution in taking controversial action?

It will be different, though. A large gain in Republican seats guarantees a vocal minority party sure to press for major tax cuts and sweeping ethics reforms. Voter anger also is likely to mean a General Assembly eager to shrink government rather than expand social programs.

And yet House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are predicting little in the way of far-reaching legislation this year. They are concerned that the freshmen need time to acclimate themselves to Annapolis and become familiar with the complex nuances and countervailing forces on controversial topics.

Gov.-elect Parris Glendening needs time to adjust, too. Don't expect a sweeping overhaul of government agencies this session. He intends to nibble at the edges of the budget to reduce spending growth to roughly half what outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer wants. He has also deferred action on a controversial handgun-control package until 1996 to simplify his task this first session.

RTC But Mr. Glendening has not backed down from his pledge to liberalize budget language for Medicaid abortions. That will provoke an impassioned debate in the closely split legislature.

One focus will be stimulating business development. The governor-elect and legislative leaders are discussing a big boost in the "sunny day" fund to lure companies to Maryland. Mr. Glendening also wants to cut business taxes selectively.

Welfare reform, focused on incentives and penalties to encourage people to move off the public dole, stands an excellent chance of passage -- with approval from the new governor. Efforts to change the way the state deals with juvenile criminals is high on the list, too. So is a crackdown on lobbying gift-giving.

Could an end to the political legislative scholarship program be sight? Yes, but Mr. Miller wants to hang on to this juicy perk a little longer by phasing it out over four years. That's unacceptable.

Casino gambling is on the minds of high-paid lobbyists, but not many legislative leaders. The best approach is to study the matter this summer.

Still, the governor provides much of the direction for the legislature. And in his first session, Mr. Glendening is taking a go-slow approach. That is a clear signal to legislators to moderate their pace. There's no urgency for them to push through sweeping new laws. This could be the most cautious General Assembly in years.

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