Assembly OKs major reforms Welfare, Medicaid changes pass before lawmakers adjourn

Typically hectic finale

Early retirement for state workers also gets nod

April 09, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Peter Jensen, Frank Langfitt, Marina Sarris, C. Fraser Smith and Diana K. Sugg contributed to this article.

The Maryland General Assembly approved major reforms of the state's welfare and Medicaid programs before lawmakers ended their annual 90-day session last night.

During a typically hectic final day, the legislature enacted dozens of measures, including an early-retirement bill for state government workers and a measure guaranteeing a two-day hospital stay for new mothers and babies.

Before adjourning for the year at midnight, the General Assembly: Enacted a welfare bill that some legislators say represents a major turning point in Maryland's approach to public assistance.

The legislation is designed to put more teeth in the state's existing welfare-to-work program by making it harder for families to go on welfare and cutting off checks to those who don't report for required work or training.

But the Assembly rejected the governor's proposals to limit recipients to five years on the rolls and to force them into community service programs after two years. Lawmakers said those measures went too far since the state doesn't have the money to guarantee child care and job training.

Approved a Medicaid reform bill that will move hundreds of thousands of Marylanders covered by the government health insurance program into HMOs and other managed care plans.

State officials said the Medicaid legislation -- more than a year in the making -- will save the state about $500 million over the next five years. Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat who led efforts to pass the measure, said it was necessary to stave off cuts in Medicaid, which eats up one-seventh of the state $14.6 billion budget.

Reached a stalemate over the issue of so-called "brownfields," polluted industrial tracts where the governor and others would like to encourage new development.

Delegates and senators could not agree on what cleanup standards to impose or whether businesses should be given liability relief before or after they cleaned up the sites.

Those were among the issues that took center stage in the final hours of a session in which the two most prominent proposals -- football stadiums and gun control -- had won approval much earlier.

Major victories

On both issues, Gov. Parris N. Glendening won major victories, helping fuel a solid session for the second-year chief executive.

The real action of the final day took place in the back rooms, where small groups of legislators met in search of compromises to satisfy both chambers on key issues.

Working toward their constitutional deadline of midnight, legislators approved a bill guaranteeing new mothers and their babies a minimum 48-hour hospital stay. The bill was designed ** to close a loophole in legislation passed last year.

As with all legislation, it will become law only when signed by the governor.

Lawmakers also spent a considerable amount of time tinkering with the mechanics of government. They passed, for example, a bill to create a "pay for performance" system for state employees, a significant move away from traditional across-the-board raises.

Will affect 7,000

Some 7,000 state employees will be eligible for an early-retirement program that was approved last night. Lawmakers called the proposal a more humane alternative to layoffs.

The General Assembly also agreed to a proposal to ease the "maintenance of effort" provision that prohibits county governments from cutting education spending from year to year.

The legislation will give the state Board of Education the authority to waive the restriction in times of financial hardship. It also will give counties more authority over how money is spent, and one-time projects such as computer labs won't have to be counted in the education funding formula.

While the final day was dominated by debate over several substantive policy questions, the session will go down as the year Maryland agreed to help build two football stadiums.

Faced with widespread public opposition, stadium proponents emphasized the importance of living up to the deals cut by the governor with owners of the two football teams relocating to the state.

To renege on the deals, proponents argued, would make Maryland a "laughingstock" in the business world.

$270 million

That argument, coupled with a give-back of several million dollars by Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell and tremendous political horse-trading, secured approval for the state to spend $270 million on two stadiums -- $200 million for a Baltimore Ravens stadium and $70 million to help with a new privately financed home for the Washington Redskins in Landover.

The pro-business argument fit well in a session that often was dominated by attempts to revive Maryland's sagging economy.

The legislature added $7 million to an existing $20 million fund to attract new companies, approved a tax credit of up to $1,000 per job for companies creating at least 60 new positions, and killed the first serious effort in years to win collective-bargaining rights for state workers.

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