Fireworks in the State House Explosive session: General Assembly tackles hot issues ranging from stadiums to handguns.

January 07, 1996

FORGET ABOUT THAT somnolent General Assembly session of 1995. The new year brings a revived legislature and a second-year governor itching to tackle hot-button issues. There will be plenty of loud controversies starting Wednesday, when the Assembly opens its 90-day session in the Annapolis State House.

With a 40 percent turnover in membership last year, the Maryland legislature resembled a giant political science classroom on Lawmaking 101. But now that those freshmen have a session under their belt, they are eager to do some serious legislating.

So is Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who delayed action on many volatile topics last year, hoping to gain his bearings before making demands on the legislature. His package is loaded with such items, including collective bargaining for state workers, an easing of Medicaid abortion restrictions and auto-insurance reforms.

The most emotional issues concern stadiums and handguns. Much of the electorate dislikes the notion of the state building a football stadium in Baltimore and assisting with a second stadium in Landover. But Mr. Glendening and legislative leaders see enormous long-term benefits. Defeat would send a devastating message about Maryland's business climate and severely handicap the governor's efforts to bring new enterprises to the state.

Just as explosive will be the debate over tough handgun controls, including a license to obtain a new gun and a limit of one handgun purchase a month. These are sensible steps, but the National Rifle Association and other gun aficionados see it as an attack on the American way of life. The governor faces an uphill fight to clamp down on handgun sales.

Overriding much of the session will be the hassle in Washington over federal budget cuts. The governor is planning sharp spending reductions in anticipation of bad news from Washington. But the depth of these reductions and the governor's ability to pay for a cut in the personal income tax will make for some intricate fiscal juggling. Not till late March will the matter start to clarify itself.

Other issues on the table include tax credits for companies that create 50 or more jobs, eliminating regulations and needless red tape that deter business growth, much-needed election-law reforms, a further delay in tougher auto-emissions testing and making it easier for companies to use old factories and industrial sites with environmental problems. The legislature won't be for the faint of heart this year. Be prepared for plenty of fireworks.

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