A bill to help retrain Maryland's unemployed and displaced workers cleared a key House finance committee yesterday, but only after amendments were added that supporters said would substantially weaken the measure.
The retraining bill, sponsored by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, would implement a new federal jobs act that makes money available to states that pass laws setting up such programs and that provide some matching funds. The committee's consideration of the bill, however, erupted into an unexpected debate about whether the governor or local elected officials should control how retraining money is disbursed and spent.
Supporters of local control said they were better able than the state to assess the needs of their communities and that they feared money might be doled out on the basis of political friendships. Backers of state control have argued that the retraining effort should be coordinated statewide and that the state should evaluate local programs. The upshot of yesterday's debate was that backers of state control won.
Changes in the bill, approved yesterday by the House Ways and Means committee and backed by Cardin, now give the governor--with the recommendations of a state jobs coordinating council--the power to disburse retraining money to the localities. The original bill allowed the localities to compete for grants, after local officials and private industry councils proposed retraining programs geared to specific local needs.
The original bill would have also set a limit on how much money any one locality could receive, a provision that supporters said would guarantee that funds be disbursed equitably--even to counties with relatively low unemployment. Under the version backed by the committee yesterday, the governor could give as much money as he wanted to any one jurisdiction, presumably those with the highest unemployment rate.
The original bill also mandated that the state match federal money with state funds to aid dislocated workers. The committee version backed yesterday makes the state match optional. A match is required for the state to receive aid for dislocated workers under Title III of the federal jobs act.
The original bill also would have required the state to set up certain programs for the unemployed. But the committee rejected that provision--deciding instead to study it over the summer--with committee members arguing essentially that there was no money in the budget for new programs.