If the 90 days of Maryland's 1983 legislative session prove anything, it is this: Pre-session prognostication is an exercise in futility.
This was supposed to be remembered as labor's year in the General Assembly. The new Senate president was a long-time labor lawyer who was put in his post with labor's help. Gov. Harry Hughes had made promises during the campaign. Speaker of the House Benjamin L. Cardin, embarking on what will be a four-year bid for the governorship, was certainly going to want labor in his corner.
So what happened?
The new president, Melvin A. Steinberg, made reform of the state pension system the centerpiece of his program, infuriating labor leaders. Hughes kept his promise and pushed through a new labor department, but only after it was renamed the Department of Employment and Training to appease the business community.
And, thanks in large part to Cardin, the biggest winners of this session were members of the banking industry who, to the surprise of many, pushed through the most sweeping piece of lending deregulation legislation in the state's history.
The overriding issue of this session was money, or the lack of it. Hughes submitted a no-growth budget that included a $22 million tax package, which would have raised state taxes on tobacco, alcohol, beer and wine. Steinberg tried to push through pension reform, because, he said, it would save the state $60 million. Prince George's County and the city of Baltimore, facing large budget deficits, came to the legislature hats in hand, literally begging for money.
With all four of the state's distribution formulas--education, police, fire and transportation--scheduled to be rewritten next year, much of the session was spent looking ahead to the battles of 1984, when everyone in the state, from the wealthy in Montgomery County to the poor in Baltimore and Prince George's County, will be here scraping for every nickel they can find.
The other major issue was crime, specifically the state's criminal sentencing laws. A citizens' committee to tighten sentencing laws was formed in the name of Stephanie Roper, the 22-year-old college senior brutally murdered last year. Roper's killers received sentences that will make them eligible for parole after only 12 years.
They came here by the hundreds, demanding major changes. They got some of what they wanted and said they will be back next year for more.
Overall, it was a hold-the-line year for local jurisdictions; a quiet year for Hughes, who lobbied hard for the new labor department but otherwise submitted a disjointed legislative package full of relatively minor bills; and for the assmembly as a whole, a warm-up year with 66 first-term legislators getting oriented, and Steinberg and Cardin feeling each other out in their duel for control.
"This year was the prelude," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "We glided through. Next year will be the corker."
The following are capsules of the major issues taken up during the session. The State Budget
Both houses of the legislature adopted without major alterations Hughes' $6.4 billion budget for the 1984 fiscal year beginning July 1. They did cut about $24 million from the budget to avoid the politically painful step of raising taxes on cigarettes, beer, wine and liquor--the so-called sin taxes that Hughes had proposed raising to balance his budget.
The reductions were made mostly in the state bureaucracy, especially in travel costs and funding for less essential state programs. However, proposed merit increases for Univerity of Maryland faculty members were eliminated, as was some funding to pay Medicaid reimbursements for doctors.
Hughes and the legislators agreed that changes in the state's income tax structure will have to be made next year to balance the fiscal 1985 budget. By law, the governor must submit a balanced state budget each year.
Hughes' most controversial proposal, which would have changed budget language to make it easier for poor women to qualify for Medicaid-funded abortions, was defeated by the House. The Senate, anxious to avoid a filibuster on the controversial item, went along with the House.
The budget that goes into effect in July is the largest in state history. It includes about $2.3 billion in aid for public education, including increases in programs for handicapped children, talented and gifted children, disruptive youths and adult continuing education. About $1.7 billion will be spent on human services, from welfare grants to drunk driving programs.
The legislature also adopted just under $195 million in capital projects, ranging from a new maximum security prison in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore to funds to renovate Memorial Stadium for the Orioles and the Colts.
Prince George's County got money to build a new prison and renovate three historic homes in the county. Montgomery was given funding for the Olney Theater. Hughes' Package
At midsession it seemed that the governor's entire package might be defeated. After aggressively pursuing the legislature's affections during last year's session, Hughes returned to the pattern of his first three years in office, rarely meeting with anyone outside the leadership, spending long hours in his office and, in general re-acquiring his old nickname: "Rip Van Hughes."
But with the new labor department facing imminent defeat, Hughes emerged, lobbied the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee extremely hard and mustered just enough votes to get the bill out of committee on a 7-to-6 vote. From there, the bill had relatively clear sailing, the only roadblock being a lengthy filibuster staged by rural senators. Passage of the department in the Senate was ensured when Hughes told Prince George's senators he would not veto the new lottery game, "Lotto," which they were pushing as a bailout for the county.
Hughes, who considers the word "deal" an obscenity, insisted it was mere coincidence that he agreed to support Lotto.
The new department, which Hughes had promised labor leaders in return for their support, brings the number of state departments to 13. It will branch off from the Department of Human Resources to help the state's unemployed find new jobs.
Hughes also managed to get five of nine bills in his annual drunken-driving package passed, further tightening the state's already tight drunken-driving laws. The new laws give police the right to choose what form of test a suspected drunken driver must take. The changes also allow for suspending the registration of a car driven by someone whose license has been suspended or revoked for a previous drinking-related offense.
The legislature also passed a Hughes-backed measure making child-safety seats mandatory for infants in automobiles, and another providing for a 911 emergency police telephone number statewide. Economic Issues
The 1983 session was dominated more than anything by discussions of economic issues such as jobs and unemployment. The most significant piece of legislation in this general category was the enactment of a sweeping banking deregulation measure similar to deregulation now in effect in Delaware and Virginia.
The banking bill, written in large part by lobbyists for the finance industry, gives a variety of new freedoms to banks and retail stores and places a greater burden on consumers to protect their own interests.
Once signed by Hughes, who pushed the measure, it will for the first time allow several new credit card charges, including membership fees, late fees, billing fees and individual transaction fees. The 24 percent interest ceiling for consumer credit in the state will not be affected by the bill.
In addition, consumer loans for boats, cars, house renovations and other such major items will be subject to a variable rate of interest. Interest presently charged by Maryland banks for their consumer loans is fixed at the time the money is borrowed and cannot vary.
Banks will have an easier time in repossessing items purchased through loans. Under current law, if something is repossessed the bank must provide an opportunity for redemption and must give warning before and after the repossession. Under the deregulation measure, a person will have only one opportunity for redemption and the bank will be required to notify only after the fact.
The other major economic issue was the debate over unemployment benefits and the taxes employers must pay to support those benefits. Early in the session Hughes and legislative leaders agreed to raise employer taxes but to phase in an additional surcharge that was supposed to hit employers this year.
They also agreed to raise the $153 maximum weekly unemployment benefit. The House-approved legislation would have raised the benefit as of July by $7 to $160. But the Senate measure would have raised it $12, to $165. A conference committee agreed to the $12 increase but made it phased in over several months instead of all going into effect in July.
In the end, the legislature finally agreed to phase in a $7 increase, boosting the benefit to $160 July 1 and to $165 Dec. 25.
Possibly the most controversial economic measure this session was a proposed Unemployed Bill of Rights that would have waived temporarily many obligations incurred by the unemployed.
The measure, which provided for a six-month reprieve on outstanding utility, rent and mortgage bills, was pushed by a group of unemployed Baltimoreans. Legislators, expressing sympathy with the unemployed, said the measure was too costly to hard-pressed businesses, utility companies and banks, and killed it. Crime
The Stephanie Roper Committee focused much of the assembly's attention on the crime issue this year. More than 100 so-called Roper bills were introduced by various legislators.
Three bills passed. One increased the minimum time a defendant must spend in jail in a death-penalty case before being eligible for parole from 15 years to 25 years. Another bill removed voluntary intoxication as a mandatory mitigating circumstance in a murder case. Under the new law, intoxication may be considered as a mitigating circumstance but it is not required as it was in the Roper case. The third new law requires that a judge and jury see a victim-impact statement before sentencing.
All the new laws were in response to the Roper case. The first came about because of the 12-year minimum her murderers could serve (although it is highly unlikely they would ever get out that quickly). The second and third came after the Roper jury was forced to consider intoxication as a mitigating circumstance and because the jury never saw a victim-impact statement.
Another bill, which passed the Senate but was killed in committee in the House, would have created a third option for juries in capital cases: Life without parole (the two options now are the death penalty, or life imprisonment with parole possible).
"We're absolutely delighted with the progress we made this year," said Kurt Wolfgang, legislative liaison for the Roper Committee. "We were told we wouldn't get anything and we got three bills. Next year, we'll be better prepared and hope to do even better." Pensions
The issue that may have generated the most mail and caused the tensest public hearings this year was pension reform. Proposed by Senate President Steinberg as a way of giving the state more money for other programs, the pension reform legislation would have reduced benefits for about 70,000 public school teachers and state employes covered by the old retirement system.
That system has an uncapped annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and, in the past few years of high inflation, costs have skyrocketed. This year, because of rising retirement costs and a major error in calculation by the pension system's fiscal experts, the state had to budget an extra $103 million for pension costs.
Four years ago the state set up a new, cheaper system with a 3 percent COLA, but that affected only new employes and others who voluntarily shifted from the old system to the new. The legislation proposed by Steinberg, and passed by the full Senate, would have had the effect of forcing all remaining employes to shift into the new system, although all benefits accrued up to that point would have been calculated under the benefit plan of the old system.
Hughes and House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin both indicated they preferred studying the issue another year before revamping the retirement system again. The Steinberg legislation was killed in the House. Local Legislation
For Prince George's County, the issue that created ninety-nine percent of the turmoil during the session was money. County Executive Parris N. Glendening came to legislators looking for help in closing a $30 million budget gap. At first, the delegation was reluctant to get involved, but by the end of the session, closing the budget gap was the driving force in everything the delegates and senators did.
The county got one bailout package, Lotto. The new game, which will be worth $11.5 million over the next two fiscal years, passed with the support of Baltimore city, which will make about $10.5 million, and Montgomery County, which came to the rescue of Prince George's after a battle over the Lotto bill threatened to ruin the relationship between the two counties.
Prince George's and Baltimore city will be the major beneficiaries because the proceeds from the statewide game will be distributed in proportion to the amount of play it gets in each jurisdiction, and those two areas are sites of the heaviest play in the current state lottery.
The other major bailout idea, a $10 million property tax on businesses, died in the Senate after passing the House, because of an amendment that required that any rate increase in utilities caused by the tax be picked up by Prince George's rate payers.
The amendment had been insisted upon by Montgomery delegates. In the Senate, Montgomery agreed to a compromise amendment that passed part of the cost on to Montgomery, but legislators from other jurisdictions refused to cooperate and the measure died in committee.
Glendening's last-second plea that the county join an Anne Arundel County bill creating a utility tax surcharge was rejected on a 4-to-4 vote by the county senators. That vote sent Glendening home furious.
The bottom line: Prince George's got Lotto but nothing else, and Annapolis is left still facing a budget gap and more problems next year.
The session was far more sanguine for Montgomery, even though it became involved in Prince George's troubles. The county again passed a measure that would have given voters in Takoma Park the right to choose whether they wish to remain half in Prince George's and half in Montgomery or be placed entirely in Montgomery. The Prince George's delegation killed the measure, promising to reintroduce it next year, this time with the voters being given the option of moving entirely into Prince George's.