Learning by Doing in Annapolis

April 11, 1995

Like a bunch of college freshmen, members of the Maryland General Assembly spent most of their first session in Annapolis getting to know one another. That's not surprising, considering the 44 percent turnover. But it came as a surprise that the session turned into an agreeable meeting with some substantive achievements.

The ideological fireworks expected from an enlarged Republican minority never materialized. Especially in the Senate, Republican newcomers quickly plunged into practical matters, such as shaping compromises on issues. House Republicans generally tried the more dogmatic approach. They sought to score political points on issues, but ended up losing when the votes were counted.

Three developments made the session smooth-running: Legislative thinking often ran parallel to the goals of a cautious Gov. Parris N. Glendening; both House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller managed to avert major conflicts; expectations were modest.

Lawmakers can claim credit, along with the governor, for fashioning a fiscal plan with no new taxes and even cuts in selective business levies, a slimmed-down state budget that is below spending affordability guidelines and a $250 million pot set aside in case of big reductions in federal aid.

This legislature was decidedly pro-business. Real estate closing costs were chopped. Taxes on car-leasing/rental companies, R&D firms, banks and alternative-fuel vehicles were lowered. A $20 million "sunny day" development fund was approved. Unemployment insurance costs were trimmed. A "what's good for business" attitude was present on both floors of the State House.

The biggest advance occurred on an issue that hadn't been on the legislature's radar screen in January: a ban on workplace smoking. When the courts cleared the way for enforcement of a sweeping regulatory ban, lawmakers sought exemptions for certain businesses. The final compromise preserved the smoking ban for nearly all workplaces -- a clear victory for advocates of a more healthful environment.

Many hot issues were put off a year: Big tax cuts, casino gambling, election reforms, gun control and assumption of local court costs. Legislators did, though, find workable arrangements on auto-emissions inspections, minority set-asides, public financing of gubernatorial campaigns and tougher drunken-driving standards. Delegates opted to reject liberalized rules for Medicaid abortions; senators meekly went along.

This year's learning experience sets the stage for 1996's sophomore gathering. Delegates and senators turned in a solid, though unspectacular, performance over the past three months. Expectations will be higher for them next session.

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