After days of lobbying by Gov. Harry Hughes, the House of Delegates today approved the governor's plan to expand his cabinet to include a labor secretary by creating a new Department of Employment and Training.
The Senate already had adopted the measure, which Hughes had labeled the centerpiece of his legislative package this year. Now it needs only his signature to become law.
Enactment of the legislation creating a labor department came as both houses met in double session today and tonight to complete their work before the 1983 session ends on Monday night.
With House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg calling for votes with the speed and sound of auctioneers, the legislature worked its way through hundreds of measures.
Among those enacted into law or expected to be approved by tonight were: the state's $194 million capital budget, which provides funding for a variety of projects, including a new jail for Prince George's County; a new venture loan program for business; continued subsidization of drivers' education, and expansion of the "911" emergency telephone program.
Several issues remain to be resolved by conference committees between the two houses, including an increase in weekly unemployment benefits. The Senate bill would increase the maximum benefits from the current $153 to $160 a week, while the House version would increase benefits to $165.
The Senate also decided to postpone consideration of a controversial proposal, opposed by county governments and school boards, that would reduce the penalties on teachers' unions that go on strike. The delay all but guarantees that the measure will die because of a lack of time before this session ends.
The Department of Employment and Training (DET), or labor department, as it was called until the word labor was dropped from the title because of business opposition, easily passed the House by a vote of 95 to 40, despite the efforts of many leaders of the House to defeat it.
Its passage was seen as a significant victory for Hughes, who overcame legislators' initial skepticism through weeks of lobbying.
"I wouldn't say we turned people around," said Hughes' legislative lobbyist, John F.X. O'Brien. "I think we convinced people it was the right thing to do."
DET will be the 13th department in the state government and the first created since 1973.
Supporters of the new agency said that only 10 new positions will be created, at an additional cost to the state of $160,000, including a $60,000-a-year, cabinet-level secretary. Some 1,500 positions currently in other agencies will become a part of the new department.
Proponents called the Department of Employment and Training a much-needed effort to consolidate and increase the focus on retraining and jobs efforts that now are divided among three departments.
They also stressed the need to implement new responsibility and money from the federal Jobs Partnership Training Act.
"We have to retool America, we have to retool the work force," said Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery). "If we are interested in strenthening the economy and strengthening this state, we have to support this."
Opponents included three of the House's six committee chairmen, the speaker pro-tem, several others holding lesser leadership roles and the House minority leader, all of whom spoke against the measure when it came to the floor this morning.
The opponents of the bill argued that the new department would create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and would increase demands by other interests to have their own departments.
"We've heard that all the people who deal with these things in other agencies obviously are incompetent," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph E. Owens (D-Montgomery). "So now we put all the incompetents together in a department and that's going to solve the problem? This is just a slow freight train. Wait 'till the aging come down here for their department."
But Cardin, who had made the issue of employment the theme of this year's legislative session, said: "I think it would've been a disaster to go home and do nothing this year on the jobs issue . I voted for it, and I voted for it gladly. We wanted something to pass, and this was the only game in town."