The most sweeping banking and credit deregulation bill in the state's history was sent to Gov. Harry Hughes today for his signature after the Senate accepted, by a vote of 32 to 13, amendments placed on it by the House.
The path for the legislation's passage was cleared this morning when the five members of the Senate's black caucus, who had filibustered on the measure for four hours Thursday night, met with Hughes and came away with assurances that he would set up meetings between bankers and members of the black community.
"We got all we could from the governor and we're pleased," said Sen. Clarence W. Mitchell (D-Baltimore), who led the filibuster. "He's promised to convene the meetings in his office because we are concerned that the banking community has not shown enough sympathy to minorities.
With the filibuster over, the only remaining stumbling block was a technical error on the final amendment placed on the bill when it was passed in the House by a two-vote margin Wednesday.
The error changed an amendment that limited to two points (each point equals one percent of a mortgage) the amount that can be tacked on to second mortgages, to also apply to first mortgages.
Normally such an error would be corrected with a technical amendment. But because of the close margin in the House, sponsors did not want to risk sending the bill back there. Instead, they drafted a separate bill to clean up the technicality. Opponents immediately said they would try to kill the new bill in the House.
"We need it the new version , but it isn't a matter of life and death," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery). "It could cause some headaches this way, but it won't really hurt the bill that much."
Gov. Hughes said he would sign the deregulation measure regardless of whether the correcting legislation passes. Hughes worked hard to get the bill through the House.
Although there was never any question about Senate concurrence, Thursday's filibuster caused a near split in the Senate leadership. Mitchell is a committee chairman and Sen. Clarence W. Blount, another member of the black caucus, the majority leader.
Their participation in the filibuster infuriated Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg. As the evening wore on, Steinberg threatened to strip the two of their leadership posts and implied that Mitchell had started the filibuster because he was angry that his friends failed to get a loan for a farm on the Eastern Shore.
They reached an accord after an hour-long meeting, with Steinberg agreeing to call Hughes to set up the meeting. The only problem with that came when a Steinberg aide was told the governor was asleep and could not be disturbed. Steinberg reached the governor's chief of staff, Ejner J. Johnson, who agreed to set up the meeting.
This morning, Steinberg apologized from the podium for his remarks, saying "any implication that a specific loan was a reason for this filibuster was merely rumor and innuendo and it just wasn't true. The senators were concerned about their constituents being taken advantage of by these new rules and they expressed those concerns to me."