The 1985 General Assembly opens its first full week of work today dominated by legislation affecting virtually all facets of Maryland business and industry, but with little prospect of repeating the bitter debates over financial issues that were well under way at this time last year.
Buoyed by a national economic recovery and a projected $47 million surplus in the state budget, lawmakers expect to approve a series of sweeping economic measures whose key features were decided last summer and earlier this winter.
Legislative leaders predicted relatively easy passage of bills to allow interstate banking, bolster the state's flagging racing industry and establish an aggressive government campaign to win more foreign trade for Maryland businesses.
But according to the same legislators, business lobbyists and industry spokesmen, the General Assembly also must grapple with containing the ever-rising cost of health care, a volatile and politically sensitive issue that has captured the attention of employers in the state like no other.
"Getting a handle on health costs is the big one this time," said Charles Krautler, a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, whose 1,600 members represent 15,000 employers across the state.
A special state commission last month recommended that Maryland regulatory agencies be empowered to stop all expansion of Maryland hospitals, cap hospital revenue and take other steps affecting group health plans and other programs financed by employers.
"Health costs are eating a tremendous chunk out of those businesses that provide group health programs ," said state Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's), vice chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, which will consider several bills affecting health care costs.
The General Assembly also will consider revisions to the state's worker compensation laws, a package carried over from last year when it was defeated in the assembly.
The central change, endorsed by Krautler and filed by Del. Martha S. Klima (R-Baltimore County), would reduce so-called "permanent partial" benefits paid to disabled employes who return to work. Several legislators said prospects for that bill have improved little since the 1984 session.
Other legislation affecting Maryland businesses include:
* A series of proposals by Gov. Harry R. Hughes, including one to launch a major initiative to spur foreign trade in Maryland. Under Hughes' plan, a new Office of International Trade would coordinate the work of state economic development, transportation and agriculture agencies to encourage foreign trade in Maryland products at major transit facilities such as the Port of Baltimore.
Hughes last week also announced agreement on an issue some experts consider crucial to the survival of Maryland's $1 billion-a-year horse racing industry.
On Friday, the governor and several key legislators said they would support a $9 million reduction in state taxes on horse betting, money that the dwindling number of racetracks could then use to increase purses and upgrade facilities.
Hughes also will file legislation allowing interstate banking to begin in Maryland in four years following an interim period of regional banking involving Maryland, 13 southeastern states and the District of Columbia, administration officials said. The Maryland Bankers Association fought such a proposal last year, saying it feared that large out-of-state banks would enjoy an unfair advantage over smaller finanical institutions in Maryland.
Spokesman William Weaver said the association probably will support Hughes'bill, but hopes to add Pennsylvania to the banking region because of the proximity of banks in that state to residents of northern and western Maryland.
* Legislators are expected to consider revising formulas for distributing industrial revenue and development bonds, key sources of financing for growing counties such as Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's, as well as Baltimore City. The proposed revisions come at a time when funding for such bonds is being curtailed while demands for such financing remain high.
* Several legislators, following the recent lead of such states as Pennsylvania, California and Delaware, have proposed a series of civil fines for bad checks under $300.
One proposal, endorsed by Giant Food Inc. and other large corporations, would require civil prosecution of those who write bad checks. Those persons also would be required to repay the amount of the check and would face fines of up to $1,000.