With only four days left in the 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly, two of the most important remaining pieces of legislation - a state pension revision measure and an ethics bill governing the conduct of public officials - are running an increasing risk of death by delay.
Their condition is not critical just yet; legislation has been known to run the six-step legislative route in only a few hours during the hectic last days of earlier sessions. But the backers of the bills are beginning to worry.
"I'd like to get (the ethics bill) out of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee today, if possible," Acting Gov. Blair Lee III announced at his press conference yesterday. "Certainly not later than tomorrow."
And Sen. John Carroll Byrness (D-Baltimore), a sponsor of the legislation, echoed these same words as he stepped into the committee hearing room a few hours later for his third day of hearings on the bill. "It better get voted out of here today, he said. "Otherwise . . ."
Byrnes did not finish the sentence, but his implication was clear. The hearings on the ethics bill are being conducted in the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee of the House; the committee chairman, Del. Charles Krysiak (D-Baltimore) is a already the bill has been worked on in committee long enough for its supporters to begin questioning the motives behind Krysiak's apparent thoroughness.
Krysiak, his temper obviously rising, rebutted a similar accusation on the House floor yesterday afternoon. "I don't appreciate the heat that's being applied by the Senate and the bill's supporters," he said. "If they wanted this bill that badly they should have had it in my committee weeks ago."
Later, just before the third day of hearings on the bill was to begin, Krysiak conceded that no committee vote would be raken on the legislation before this afternoon, at the earliest. noting that he only reveived the bill from the Senate last week and that many amendments had been prepared, including some by the bill's sponsors, Krysiak said, "We're just taking it day by day."
But he also conceded that he would not be averse to seeing the bill "sent to the Policy Committee to be studied over the summer" - in effect killing the legislation for this year.
There are numerous provisions to the sweeping ethics bill, including the boardened financial desclosure requirements, requirements that members of state regulatory agencies leaving their jobs must wait a year before they can take jobs with the industries they regulate, and provisions governing the acceptance of gifts by public officials.
"We'll just have to take a look and see what the committee does," he said. "The committee may amend it heavily."
Across the hall from Krysiak's Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, the House Appropriations Committee was also considering controversial legislation that, at this late point in the session, runs the risk of slow death by amendments.
This committee, headed by Del. John Hargreaves (D-Caroline) is wrestling with an 80-page pension measure that has been bitterly opposed by lobbyists for the state employed and state teachers' unions.
Like the ethics bill, this measure if being pushed hard by acting Gov. Lee. But unlike the ethics bill, which was always expected to have a difficult time gaining approval by the House, the pension legislation seems to have suffered from some complacency in the part of its supporters.
The pension legislation, which sets up a new, somewhat less generous pension system for new state employes and which, according to its supporters, is absolutely essential for won Senate passage last week after a the future fiscal health of the state, bitter drawn-out battle.
In the wake of that victory, the bill's supporters confidently predicted easy House passage. But when the legislation came to the floor for a preliminary vote yesterday, head-counting by administration lobbyist revealed barely 45 of the 141 delegates in the House were prepared to buck the powerful teachers' union and vote for the bill.
Seeing this, Hargreaves hastily moved to put the bill back in his committee, holding it there for discussion until the administration and the unions involved could work out a compromise on the bill.
"We would like to go back to the floor with this tomorrow . . . with (the compromise) recommendations of our committee," Hargreaves told his fellow committee members. "That's as late as we're going to do it."
But teacher's lobbyist Thomas Gray, sitting in on the hearing, said quietly, "I just don't think they can adequatelt study it in this time."