Spokesmen for Maryland's banking industry appeared to have been reading from the wrong script in Annapolis this week when they opposed a proposal that would expedite the sale of state-insured savings and loan associations.

By seeking a delay in the interpretation of a state banking law, the Maryland Bankers Association appears to be out of touch with reality. Moreover, the association may unwittingly be playing the role of obstructionist in attempting to delay a ruling that could help resolve a major but often overlooked problem remaining from the state's savings and loan crisis.

At issue is a proposal by Washington Bancorporation to buy a Maryland-insured S&L. Under existing reciprocal interstate banking laws, a D.C. bank holding company may acquire a Maryland bank company and vice versa. Maryland's interstate banking law also stipulates that an institution must have operated as a bank for at least three years before it can be acquired by an out-of-state banking organization, except in emergencies, of course. That provision was included to discourage speculators from organizing banks solely for the purpose of making quick profits on sales to out-of-state buyers.

Since Maryland-insured S&Ls aren't covered by the pivotal three-year provision, Margie Muller, the state's banking commissioner, sought an interpretation from appropriate committees of the General Assembly before ruling on Washington Bancorp's proposal. The issue before the committees then is whether a state-insured S&L must wait three years after converting to a commercial bank before it can be acquired.

An interpretation in support of Washington Bancorp's proposal to buy Baltimore's Center Savings and Loan Association at this point would be unacceptable, according to John Bowers, executive vice president and chief lobbyist for the Maryland Bankers Association.

"I don't think the time and place for policymaking is for summer study," Bowers contends. "I think that this is a short-circuit of the debate and policymaking process and the time for that would be in the General Assembly" in 1988.

On that point at least, Bowers appears to be on firm ground. The more important consideration is whether the bankers association opposes a relaxation of the law now or in 1988.

"We do not necessarily oppose the concept but we think it ought to be debated in the General Assembly," Bowers insists.

Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the bankers association is counting on the General Assembly to reject proposals such as the one being presented by Washington Bancorp. "I don't see the General Assembly {approving an exception to the three-year law} except in emergencies," said Bowers.

But will the bankers association oppose a change in the law? "I can't really say until we sit down and look at the issue," is all Bowers is willing to say at this point. "We are not going to oppose it if it is in the best interest of the state to allow those {S&Ls} to withdraw from the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund.

Indeed it is in the best interest of the state to allow that to happen, if not now, then in early 1988. Forty-one Maryland-chartered S&Ls are covered by MDIF, the state insurance fund that was established when the S&L crisis broke two years ago leading to the collapse of a private insurance fund. Those 41 S&Ls have until June 1989 to find a merger partner, obtain federal insurance or go out of business. Only one is close to qualifying for coverage by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.

Although most of the 41 are in relatively good financial condition, state officials don't expect any others to qualify for federal insurance. Meanwhile, the state has only $13 million in the insurance fund while the assets of those associations total $133 million.

Bowers believes the General Assembly may extend the 1989 deadline for state-insured S&Ls, allowing them to explore options such as converting to credit unions. That's quite a gamble for a state that hasn't yet recovered from a crippling S&L crisis.

Whether in July or in January, the only prudent decision for the General Assembly would be to grant an exception to the three-year law. The old arguments are moot, given the major restructuring taking place in Maryland's financial services industry. Even as the state's bankers were opposing a rule change in Annapolis the other day, the second phase of Maryland's interstate banking law was about to begin, opening up the state to entry by banking firms from 11 additional states. Not only have Virginia and D.C. banks acquired Maryland banks, but banking giants from New York and Pennsylvania have been allowed to buy troubled S&Ls and convert them to banks.

The old competitive considerations don't apply any longer and Maryland still has a problem, whether members of the General Assembly and state bankers realize it or not. And they should give serious consideration to Washington Bancorporation Chairman Luther H. Hodges Jr.'s comments on the acquisition proposal. "We're saying we'll take {Center Savings} and several more {S&Ls} if it will help the state with the process" of getting out of the insurance business.