Legislative scorecard General Assembly highlights

April 13, 1999

The Winners

Baltimore

A bit of political engineering now allows former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to run for mayor of the city. His supporters persuaded the Assembly to cut the residency requirement for mayoral candidates from a year to six months.

Business and utilities

They had their way in a complex deregulation bill, including the benefit of the doubt about whether -- and how much -- market competition will help Maryland consumers. Legislators admitted they didn't know whether consumers would be helped.

Smoke-free Maryland

Preachers, teachers, beauty queens and the governor spent a year trying to price kids out of the cigarette market by boosting the per-package tax by $1. The 30-cent boost they won was a huge victory in the war with Big Tobacco.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

Legislatures like to take baby steps, but Taylor wants to widen the stride considerably. His "One Maryland" plan to rescue chronically impoverished counties through tax incentives passed on the last day. He has also called for a study of tax-base sharing among Baltimore area counties.

Homebuyers

A semiannual property tax law will reduce the amount of cash needed by homebuyers at sale closings by an average of $700.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening

His collective bargaining initiative was nailed into state law; he rescued a 30-cent tobacco tax increase; and he won approval to spend $255 million on school construction. His bill providing civil rights protections for gays and lesbians was defeated, but Glendening may have won by losing -- since he made his own commitment clear.

Montgomery Executive Doug Duncan

He proved once again that tantrums can work in politics: His outraged assertion that Glendening was breaking a campaign promise forced the governor to come through with money to reduce class sizes in Montgomery -- this year. Duncan also prevailed upon the governor to reverse himself on a decision denying a traffic bypass to Brookeville.

The Losers

Environmentalists

The utility deregulation bill contained less protection for air quality than the green forces wanted, despite efforts by Glendening.

Big tobacco

The smoking lobby choked on accumulated efforts by anti- tobacco lobbyists and the governor and the growing public hostility toward an industry that, critics say, kills or sickens its customers.

Peter G. Angelos

The Orioles' principal owner, who built his fortune on successful lawsuits against manufacturers of asbestos, failed to persuade the Assembly to increase the maximum cash settlements allowed the winners in these cases.

Lance W. Billingsley

Though chairman of the state Board of Regents, Billingsley announced plans to become a lobbyist. The Assembly showed its displeasure by proposing a bill that would prohibit such double duty.

In Between

The poor

In a year when the state treasury was bursting, the poor might have expected something more ambitious. But the Assembly did approve money for a school breakfast program, help for women leaving welfare for work, and a $34 million fund to help low-income Marylanders pay their electric bills.

The Joint Committee on Ethics

Committee leaders helped re-write ethics laws governing lawmakers and proposed a study of lobbyist ethics -- but did not investigate the propriety of a decision by Del. Tony E. Fulton, a Baltimore Democrat, to accept a lucrative real estate commission for his role in the sale of a $600,000 building to two Annapolis lobbyists.

General Assembly Highlights

Here are highlights of the 1999 Maryland General Assembly session, which ended at midnight. Bills approved by the legislature need the governor's signature to become law.

Baltimore: Setting the stage for a possible mayoral run by Kweisi Mfume, lawmakers voted to reduce the residency requirement for the city's top office from a year to six months. A proposal to change the city's election cycle to coincide with the state's was defeated, as was a bill to force Baltimore to adopt a city manager form of government. Lawmakers voted to give the city sweeping powers to condemn abandoned houses. They also passed a bill creating a civilian review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct. Efforts to address the city's court crisis failed to lead to a full state takeover, but did prompt new state aid for public defenders and computers.

Ethics: A year after two ethics scandals rocked the legislature, the Assembly approved a significant reform of state ethics laws. The measure will for the first time prohibit senators and delegates from voting on legislation in which they have a direct financial interest. It also will ban lobbyists, in most cases, from buying meals for legislators or giving them tickets to sporting events.

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