Reform-minded General Assembly Major reforms: Welfare, Medicaid, state personnel will see dramatic transformations.

April 10, 1996

ON THE General Assembly's final day, legislators turned revolutionaries. They enacted three bills that dramatically change the way state government does business -- in welfare, Medicaid and personnel management. Lawmakers deserve credit for seeking new approaches to old problems.

Welfare programs will be restructured to stress training, counseling and job placement; cash payments will be a last resort. Poor people on Medicaid will join managed care groups, getting preventive care to avoid serious illnesses. State workers will gradually shift to a pay-for-performance system that rewards hard-working employees but not the inept and lazy.

These are potentially landmark measures that could have greater long-term impact than anything else achieved in the 1996 session. Much of the early energy of lawmakers and the governor centered on football stadiums. The Baltimore stadium provides a needed lift to the downtown economy; the entire region benefits, too, from the return of NFL football.

Gov. Parris Glendening had a solid session, with his stadium victories and his bill placing a one-a-month limit on handgun sales. He can also brag about a no-growth budget that actually reduces overall spending -- the first time this has happened since 1930. Only education received a substantial boost.

This session's biggest loss was the stalemate over "brownfields" legislation to clean up and develop contaminated industrial sites. Environmentalists and business leaders clashed over minor elements of the bill, then dug in their heels. We urge the governor to see what he can do administratively to attack the brownfields problem and to hammer out compromise legislation for next year.

Another disappointment came when lawmakers sided with lawyers and insurance lobbyists and stripped bare a sensible auto-insurance bill aimed at lowering premiums. But some defeats were worth cheering: A slot-machine bill for race tracks and elsewhere was shelved; collective bargaining for state workers was twice killed; an income tax cut was deferred due to the state's wobbly economy, and an ill-advised prison reform bill was tossed to a study commission.

Overall, it was a forward-looking session. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller did a commendable job rounding up the votes on key issues and keeping their members focused on statewide rather than parochial concerns.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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