Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and leaders of the General Assembly held a series of meetings with legislators today to ensure that a special legislative session scheduled for Friday would proceed without a hitch.
At the end of the day, which drew most of the state's 188 legislators back to the State House from reelection campaigns, House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Senate President James Clark Jr. said they expected the General Assembly to approve with ease emergency legislation Hughes has requested to offset unexpected federal cuts in unemployment benefits.
"The skids are greased," said Montgomery Sen. Victor Crawford, as he emerged from a meeting of the state Senate. "All the phone calls have been made. They the governor and legislative leaders are scared to death the special session will blow up in their faces."
Cardin and Clark had counseled committee leaders to put out the word that the session would last one day and the only issue up for consideration would be the governor's unemployment legislation.
"This is a serious problem, I think everyone can see that and can see the need to act quickly," said Cardin, who predicted the special session would cost taxpayers about $10,000.
Hughes, a Democrat running for reelection, is counting on a smooth session to demonstrate his effectiveness as a leader and his interest in protecting the welfare of Marylanders in the face of Reagan administration cuts. Hughes is facing major opposition from Democratic State Sen. Harry J. McGuirk and Republican Robert A. Pascal, both of whom have spoken out on the unemployment issue.
Last week Hughes, under pressure from the state's powerful labor unions, announced he was calling an "extraordinary" session of the legislature to aid 11,000 jobless Marylanders unexpectedly dropped from unemployment rolls because of changes in federal formulas.
The changes make it more difficult for states to qualify for the federal unemployment funds used to pay benefits to people out of work for more than 26 weeks. The legislators had expected the cuts and last session voted to continue paying extended benefits by using state funds to offest lost federal money. But state funding was not scheduled to begin until Sept. 26, when most thought the federal cuts would occur.
Hughes has asked the legislature to change the bill enacted last session to make it effective immediately and to alter formulas in the law to make them less stringent.
Today was the first time the legislators were able to get together to discuss the special session, the first since 1975, and, with one exception, the day was calmer than some expected.
By prearranged agreement between the governor and legislative leaders, vetoes, which by law must come before the legislature whenever it convenes, were to be left intact to avoid election-year grandstanding or embarrassment for Hughes. The one rough spot today occurred when a Senate committee voted to override a veto of a bill that would restore welfare benefits for poor, pregnant women. The governor had vetoed it, saying it did not solve the problem as well as another bill he signed. Hughes staffers quickly began working to reverse the committee's action.
Today's meetings also were reunions of sorts for the legislators, who since April have been campaigning for reelection. For some, this week would be the last time they would come to Annapolis as legislators. "I'm going to make a valedictory speech and talk about all the bills I've killed," said Crawford, who is not seeking reelection.
"It's lame ducks unlimited," said Montgomery State Sen. Howard Denis, who along with many others is facing a stiff election challenge. Added Prince George's Del. Gerard Devlin, "It's like a high school party right before graduation because you know you may not see most of these people again."