After the bell had tolled on the 1981 Maryland General Assembly session and the chambers were empty of lawmakers, there remained only piles of legislative calendars, like carnage littering the deserted Senate floor.
In those heaps of calendars listing of bills that never came up for votes lay much of the story of this year's session, 90 legislative days characterized more by rancor and frustration than by lawmaking.
In the Senate, the last three days were consumed almost wholly by filibusters aimed at killing minor, but heatedly opposed bills: a no-smoking measure for Baltimore, a bill optometrists some of the same duties as ophthalmologists, a special-interest banking bill and a Prince George's County school redistricting measure. Of those, only the Prince George's bill survived to be enacted.
The Senate talkathons were directly or indirectly responsible for killing off two of Gov. Harry Hughes' highest legislative priorities: a one-penny-per-gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax and a measure to create a state horseracing authority. But throughout the session, measures that would have worked major changes in laws governing the medical profession, the lending industry, the state tax structure and other areas rarely made it to the House or Senate floor.
The big winners of the session were the special interests, who as usual spent much of their time lobbying to kill bills that would have changed the status quo. But there were a few significant accomplishments: Hughes' comprehensive package of toughened drunk-driving laws; new condominium conversion regulations giving limited protection to tenants, and a set of bills that for the first time establish a state policy for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.
The unproductive atmosphere was spawned largely by Maryland's fiscal troubles, which came on the heels of three years of bounteous surpluses that supplied legislators with ample money to create new programs and pump-prime their districts. Faced with this unaccustomed scarcity, they turned on each other in a bitter battle to protect their home turf from the advancing budget axe.
Also, the session unfolded under the cloud of the 1982 reapportionment and redistricting, a process that will merge several existing districts, turning today's General Assembly colleagues into tomorrow's political opponents. Not many lawmakers were eager to take controversial stands or wade into divisive debates. After all, next year, when a small shift in legislative district lines could deprive them of a safe seat, they will need all the friends they can get. The Budget
The divisiveness first came to the fore in the battle of the budget, as the House Appropriations Committee, in a spasm of David Stockman-style fiscal conservatism proposed to whack $54 million from Hughes' tight $5.6 billion budget -- a move that would have sharply curtailed state services to the poor, the sick and many state institutions.
As the House committee prepared its proposals, Hughes and his aides kept hands off, even though the governor later said the changes, if enacted, would do violence to several important programs.
When the budget reached the Senate, Hughes and his staff swarmed around the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, lobbying heavily to get programs restored to help state hospitals, the University of Maryland, prisons and Medicaid. But seven of the 13 senators on the committee handed together to push the major cuts through and send the tattered budget to the Senate floor.
There, in a hard-fought lobbying campaign, Hughes managed to get almost all of his high-priority programs restored. After the House-Senate conference committee finished hashing out the differences, the total amount of cuts in funds for general programs came to $16 million, about the same figure as in quieter years. But one of the most serious cuts survived, and was enacted: an $11 million impoundment of Medicaid funds that is expected to result in the denial or reduction of services to tens of thousands of Marylanders.
In a supplemental budget proposal, Hughes asked the legislature to raise state employes' pay to $500 per person, using some of the funds generated by a series of revenue-raising measures -- an increased gasoline tax, an increase in fees charged to users of heavy trucks and an accelerated program of collecting money from abandoned bank accounts. But the package was shredded, and with it the employes' hopes of a pay raise.
Partly because of the state's fiscal troubles, this was a year when talk of taxes dominated the General Assembly. But because of the divisiveness and a widespread consicousness of the public's anti-tax mentality, no signficant new asessments were passed.
The respite may only be temporary. Despite the failure of a proposed increase in the gasoline tax and a new assessment on trucks, the Assembly will probably consider tax hikes again next year.
The need for the tax increases, according to Hughes and legislative leaders, was twofold. First, collections of the state's income tax and sales tax fell off, choking the general budget account and forcing cutbacks in a host of programs.
In addition, the state's Transportation Department, responsible for hundreds of roads and bridges as well as mass transit systems, was not getting enough money from the taxes and fees that are supposed to pay for its programs, officials said.
One of these transportation funding sources is the gas tax, which has remained at nine cents a gallon in Maryland for years while the pump price of fuel has skyrocketed.
Hughes proposed to solve the fiscal problems of both the state general fund and the Transportation department by allowing the gasoline tax to rise with inflation. The increase would have been limited to two cents the first year and one cent each year thereafter. These collections, combined with a new surcharged on the taxes paid by trucks using state roads, would have given $58 million extra to the Transportation Department next year.
At the same time, Hughes wanted to take away another tax dedicated to transportation, the corporate income tax, and give its collections to the general fund. This move would have given Hughes $30 million more for general social programs, and left a net increase of $58 million minus $30 million, or $28 million, for the Transportation Department.
The complicated nature of this tax proposal -- and its late introduction to the Assembly -- eventually proved to be its undoing. Many leaders in the Senate believed that the funding problems of the Transportation Department were overriding, and that any new taxes should be used exclusively to build and repair roads and bridges. House leaders, on the other hand, believed that the social programs paid for by the general fund were most important, and refused to accept a gasoline tax increase that was not tied to a transfer of money to the general fund. In the end, this conflict was unresolved. Prisons
Hughes' progressive corrections policy, with its stress on moving prisoners as quickly as possible out of large institutions and into community-based rehabilitation centers, emerged early as one of the major sources of friction in Annapolis.
But it was in Baltimore that Hughes' corrections department met its Waterloo. There, in the last month of the session, 27 inmates from a Jessup work release center, were indicted on charges including murder, rape, robbery and heroin trafficking -- all allegedly committed while they were supposed to be attending classes and jobs in the city.
The arrests prompted cries of outrage from legislators and local officials, insisting that Hughes' corrections policy, championed by Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Gordon C. Kamka, had compromised public safety. Hughes, who had long backed Kamka and his deputy, Edwin R. Goodlander, against heated opposition, responded by defending his progressive policies but sharply criticizing the way they were managed. Kamka and Goodlander promptly resigned, and Hughes accepted their resignations.
In the last weeks of the session, Hughes toughened his tone on the issue, throwing his support behind a measure he previously had opposed to appropriate $800,000 in planning money for a new medium-security prison. The money will not be spent unless an interim study concludes that the state needs a new facility.
Meanwhile, the state's most serious corrections problem -- the seriously crowded medium and maximum security facilities, not the target of a federal court order to ease overcrowding -- was intensified by the crisis. Hughes called for a review of every inmate in the state system to make sure that they had not landed through poor management in settings that were not secure enough. He declared his readiness to move hundreds of minimum-security inmates back to the crowded medium-security facilities if the study concludes it is warranted -- a move that would violate the court order.
As the session ended, Hughes had not yet appointed a permanent prisons chief, and officials were looking forward to the opening of two new facilities over the summer in hopes that they will largely abate the crowding problem. Local Legislation
Two bills were enacted in the last week of the session that are particularly important in the Washington area.
The first was a comprehensive new law governing regulation of condominium conversions that was the focal point of Montgomery Executive Charles Gilchrist's legislative lobbying. The new statue applies statewide, but is particularly important now in Montgomery, where thousands of apartments are being converted to condominiums.
The bill, a compromise worked out by lobbyists for Gilchrist and Hughes and legislative allies of landlords and developers, gives limited protections to elderly and handicapped tenants living in apartment buildings proposed for conversions. It also allows county officials to buy buildings before they can be converted so that their units can stay on the rental market.
On the last night of the session, the legislature also enacted a controversial election redistricting plan for members of the Prince George's County school board. The plan, drawn up by the county's senators with the help of the school board, is a conservative one that leaves intact political bases of the nine current board members.
The scheme was attacked by several legislators, however, on the grounds that it does not adequately provide for the election of black school board members. County senators were also charged with hurriedly writing and enacting the plan for political reasons after holding only one public hearing, even though three were planned.
The furor over the redistricting, which the legislators originally planned to put off until next year, was in fact largely attributed to political feuds and turf-battles having little or nothing to do with the school board. County council members, for example, viewed the legislators' sudden enthusiasm for school board redistricting as an attempt to establish a precedent for the drawing of election districts for the nine council members, who will be elected by districts for the first time next year. Education
Two one-year education aid programs passed the Assembly, along with a change in the formula for the annual state funding of local school districts that will send an additional $1 million to Montgomery County.
The aid programs, enacted on the final night of the session, provide about $5 million in increased state funding for community colleges, including those in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and grant $8 million of "targeted" money to the neediest local school systems. Montgomery and Prince George's schools will not get any funds from the targeted program, which allocated more than half of the $8 million to Baltimore City.
The two special programs, which come in addition to the more than $700 million in state aid to local education, are funded by a bill that will require banks to turn over abandoned bank accounts to the state after five years, rather than the current seven. The change will increase this revenue collection by an estimated $14 million next year.
The other change came in the complicated formula that determines how about $350 million in "basic expense" aid is divided up by the state's local jurisdictions. While Montgomery County gains a $1 million windfall under the new formula, Prince George's will get slightly less next year than it would have under the old system. Drinking
An unprecedented 106 bills to toughen the laws dealing with drunk driving were introduced in the 1981 General Assembly. At the top of the pile was a package proposed by a task force appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes. And, in one of the session's surprises, the task force proposals that had been expected to face the most opposition in the conservative House Judiciary Committee were largely enacted.
Chief among the changes was a lowering of the permissible percentages of blood alcohol content under which drivers can be declared intoxicated or impaired by alcohol. Mandatory 60-day license suspensions in most cases for persons refusing to take chemical blood or breath tests are also part of the package.
The newly enacted laws further strengthen police powers to deal with drunk drivers and require that probation before judgment -- a disposition under which the offender's record remains unblemished -- must be made known to law enforcement officials. The "PBJ" bill was regarded as among the most significant steps taken to help identify repeat offenders.
While the drunk driving laws moved through the legislative mill with unexpected ease, efforts to raise the state's legal drinking age followed a more tortuous and ultimately futile course.
The House Judiciary Committee, which had annually buried such bills, this year approved a measure raising the lower limit from 18 to 21. The turnaround was attributed by Del. Joseph E. Owens (D-Montgomery) to a new determination to prevent high schoolers from obtaining alcohol. The House went along with the committee, but the Senate insisted on 19, and the entire effort died in the session's waning hours. Tavern and package store owners had lobbied against the change. Business, Consumers
Bankers, lawyers, doctors, contractors and truckers were among the legislative winners of the session. A flurry of anti-banking bills introduced early this year all fell by the wayside, with the single exception of a measure barring lending institutions from charging credit card "membership fees." As the session ended, meanwhile, the legislature effectively lifted the limit -- formerly a percentage -- on rates banks may charge for handling trusts exceeding $250,000.
Lawyers, including many lawmakers, successfully fended off attempts to change the way attorneys charge for processing estates, scuttling a bill that could have shaved the cost to the consumer. Eye doctors benefitted from legislative inaction, as a bill to allow competing optometrists to administer medicinal eyedrops failed in the face of a filibuster in one house.
The powerful truck lobby succeeded in amending legislation that would have required the covering of all loose loads. Under the so-called "no-peaking" compromise, no such requirement exists so long as the material is piled no higher than the sidewalls. Other legislation that would have required contractors to pay the "prevailing wage" on all state-assisted public works projects also succumbed to threat of a filibuster.
Consumers won few victories in a session when volunteer citizen activists were seldom seen lobbying in the statehouse corridors. In what was regarded as a consumer victory, the lawmakers all but abolished the so-called "make-whole" procedure under which large utilities achieved quick rate increases. A bill providing limited protections to tenants of buildings being converted to condominiums also survived the legislative wringer.
In the field of nuclear medicine and energy, the legislature passed a package of bills providing for the closely monitored storage and disposal of low-level atomic waste inside the state. Racing
Maryland's most troublesome political issue -- horseracing -- surfaced again this year, and brought with it a new dose of troubles.
In hopes of rescuing the state's troubled thoroughbred horseracing tracks from financial ruin, Hughes proposed to close two of them and consolidate all business at the two remaining tracks, Laurel and Pimlico. The bill immediately became controversial because of Hughes' proposal to pay $6 million to the owners of the Bowie track in return for their agreement to bow out of the racing business. In effect, the state would be buying Bowie's 96 "racing days" and leaving all the other assets -- the land, the track, and improvements -- to the Canadian holding company that owns the track.
Legislators balked at the idea of buying something as intangible as racing days, particularly since the state technically owns all days of racing, and simply awards them to the tracks where they are run. The plan was overhauled in committee, calling for a state racing authority that would buy Bowie and, if possible in the future, the other tracks. Also in the package were bills that would vastly enhance the position of the harness horseracing industry, pushed most visibly by Freestate Raceway at Laurel and its new owner, Frank DeFrancis.
However, the redrafted Hughes plan called for the state to spend $12 million to buy Bowie -- a requirement that met a stone wall of opposition in the Senate, and it pulled down with it the harness measures.