Gov. Harry Hughes acknowledged last week what had become apparent several weeks ago: Maryland faces a protracted savings and loan crisis because some of its largest S&Ls are having difficulty qualifying for federal insurance.

Now that officials have recognized the depth of the problem, the question is, what more can the state do to ease the crisis, which began in May with a run on two financially troubled S&Ls?

It may be necessary for the state to modify legislation that establishes what appear now to be unrealistic deadlines for many S&Ls to obtain federal insurance.

In any event, far more comprehensive S&L legislation has to be a priority of the next General Assembly.

Administration officials still are talking with out-of-state banks about possible acquisitions of Maryland S&Ls for the purpose of converting them to commercial banks.

But the governor reportedly has no plans to call the General Assembly back for another emergency session to enact legislation allowing takeovers.

Realistically, there is very little incentive for out-of-state banks to rush into Maryland with offers to take over S&Ls and convert them to commercial banks.

The bid and ask prices for S&Ls are probably too high to expect the state to work out a satisfactory deal with any of the big out-of-state banks.

Maryland wants to find a buyer for a group of marginally attractive S&Ls.

At the same time, it wants to cut a deal that will relieve it of its biggest basket cases, namely Old Court Savings and Loan and Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan.

On the other side of the table, the big money-center banks are anxious to establish a presence in Maryland.

As a major port and center of commerce in the mid-Atlantic region, Baltimore is a prime attraction.

What's more, the Washington-Baltimore corridor -- the nation's fifth-largest consolidated area, with $76 billion in personal income and a hotbed of high technology and telecommunications -- makes Maryland especially attractive for the big money-center banks.

Dangling a bunch of S&Ls before the big banks is no guarantee, however, that they . . . There might still be time for Maryland lawmakers to ease the crisis . . . . will pay any price to get into Maryland. Out-of-state banks have already been given an easier route into Maryland.

The governor and his aides gave them all the incentive they need to enter the state by ramming the so-called Citicorp bill through the legislature last spring.

The legislature voted in March to allow Citicorp and other money-center banks to establish limited-service operations in the state.

Before expanding to full-service banking in Maryland, however, the big banks must agree to invest at least $25 million in facilities in designated areas and hire 1,000 persons in the state.

The issue before big out-of-state banks now is the choice between investing in startup operations in Maryland, or being allowed to slip through the back door in exchange for taking on financial burdens.

Only a giveaway, possibly at the expense of taxpayers, would seem to make the latter choice a logical one.

In the meantime, there might still be time for Maryland lawmakers to ease the crisis by following the examples of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Legislators in all three states had the foresight to rewrite laws governing S&Ls in their respective jurisdictions to coincide with regional interstate banking laws.

New laws in all three states authorize interstate operations by state-chartered savings and loans.

The laws sanction so-called regional, reciprocal interstate operations by S&Ls in a 14-state region that includes the District and Maryland.

Under Virginia's regional interstate S&L law, for example, mutual savings and loans can open branches across state lines where permitted under reciprocal laws.

Out-of-state stock associations cannot enter Virginia, however, unless they merge with or acquire an existing Virginia stock S&L.

Savings and loan holding companies in the Southeast region cannot enter Virginia except by acquiring an existing Virginia institution.

What makes a North Carolina law interesting is that that state has a private S&L insurance program that is similar to the one that Maryland disbanded at the height of the current crisis.

Equally as interesting is the fact that North Carolina's private insurance corporation and the S&Ls that it insures have agreed that those associations should apply for federal deposit insurance.

The North Carolina Financial Institutions Assurance Corp. would provide supplemental coverage for accounts that exceed the $100,000 limit set by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The conversion process began several weeks ago in North Carolina. No deadline for obtaining federal insurance was established, an official of the North Carolina Savings and Loan League explained, because the parties "recognized that the approval of applications would be controlled by the federal government itself."