Good bills, bad bills

General Assembly: Payday loans, death penalty, voting machines and union bills await a decision.

April 02, 2001

TODAY, Maryland's 188 state legislators must, by law, complete work on the Glendening administration's $21 billion budget.

That leaves hundreds of other bills in limbo, with one week to go.

Four measures especially deserve final approval. Two others are best left behind.

Payday loans. A legal loophole lets an out-of-state bank, working through check-cashing outlets, charge 390 percent on small loans. Such outrageous usury must end.

A House bill would do that and set up a commission to suggest alternative lending practices for people in poor neighborhoods.

Medicaid payment rates. State reimbursements to doctors treating poor people are so low -- only 30 percent of what insurers pay -- that physicians are dropping out of the Medicaid program. That's creating a health crisis.

There is strong Senate and House support for requiring the state health department to come up with a plan for increasing these rates by Sept. 1. That would be a prelude to a more realistic payment schedule in 2002.

New voting machines. Many voting snafus can be avoided with state-of-the-art balloting machines, such as the ones that worked so well in Baltimore City.

A compromise bill would have the state pay half the cost of a new voting system. Most counties would have to switch to new machines before next year's election. It's the least voters can expect.

Death penalty suspension. Given the finality of this punishment, it makes sense to suspend its application for two years. The University of Maryland could then study if the death penalty discriminates against African-Americans. Nine of the 13 men on death row are black.

A vote on this bill is being blocked by Sen. Walter M. Baker, but pressure is building to let the full Senate decide. Democracy -- not one man's wishes -- should rule.

University unionism. Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants unions to negotiate wage and benefit packages on state college campuses. But three times in the past, such a move has been resoundingly rejected by these employees. Their desires -- and not the governor's demands -- should be respected by lawmakers.

State universities have a good rapport with employees, thanks to a "shared governance" system. Why fix what's not broken?

Teacher unionism. The state teachers union is pressing to gain leverage over how kids are taught. Such issues as the school calendar, length of a school day and class size don't belong at the bargaining table. That's for local school boards to decide, not the union.

This bill would also strip the state school board of its grievance powers and give it instead to a union-friendly labor-relations board.

Plus, the measure would unionize part-time school employees in all Eastern Shore counties.

It's a bad bill that should be allowed to expire when time runs out on the 2001 General Assembly session a week from tonight.

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