Gov. Harry Hughes signed into law today a sweeping bank deregulation measure and several other business-oriented bills enacted by the legislature. He used the occasion to attempt to counter recent criticism by some industrialists that Maryland is antibusiness.
"Maryland has one of the healthiest, most hospitable business climates in the nation," declared Hughes, rested and tanned from a week-long post-legislature vacation in Florida. He added: "We are determined to do better."
A small group of businessmen, primarily from the regulated utility companies, recently accused the state government of a "general hostile" attitude toward industry. The accusation followed disclosures that Fairchild Industries would move its headquarters from Montgomery County to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.
Fairchild, which was recently convicted of violating Maryland water pollution laws, said the decision to move was made for a variety of reasons, including "a pattern of adversarial relations" with the state.
Among other laws and resolutions signed today were:
* A new Department of Employment and Training. Hughes proposed the new labor department to consolidate state employment and retraining programs that are now spread among several agencies. It will be funded mostly by federal money and staffed from existing positions. Hughes said today he expects to name the cabinet-level secretary for the department by July 1.
* An increase in unemployment insurance. As of July 1 the maximum weekly benefit to out-of-work Marylanders will increase from $153 to $160. It will go up again on Dec. 25 to $165 a week. The bill also extends a special state program of additional unemployment benefits paid to those who have exhausted their regular and federal supplemental benefits.
* A ban on cockfighting.
* An extension of the state's 911 emergency telephone program and an increase in the tax on telephone customers to pay for it.
* An increase in racing days at harness tracks.
* A resolution calling for a nuclear freeze.
* A resolution establishing a Vietnam and Disabled Veteran's Business Resource Council to help those veterans obtain government financial assistance and contracts.
The governor was flanked at a table by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg as he signed the first batch of bills passed by the General Assembly in the session that ended a month ago. Several more such ceremonies will occur in the next few weeks.
As the three men rapidly scrawled their signatures on one measure after another, groups of beaming legislators and others who had worked for passage of individual bills were ushered in for an official photograph of the moment when their bill was signed.
Most of the 225 bills and 24 resolutions signed today go into effect July 1, when the state's new fiscal year begins.
The bank or credit deregulation bill allows banks and retail stores to impose a broad new range of fees on loans and credit card transactions, including a credit-card membership fee.
Consumers holding credit cards issued by Maryland banks can expect to begin paying an annual membership fee of between $18 to $20 when the new law goes into effect.
The bill was pushed by the state's finance industry and embraced by Hughes and legislative leaders, who said the state could no longer regulate money and credit when the federal government and surrounding jurisdictions were lifting their regulations.
Consumer advocates sharply criticized the measure, saying it gives too much to the banks with too little protection for consumers against high fees on top of high interest rates. Hughes said today that marketplace competition "is going to work in holding down abuses."
When the law goes into effect the state will operate a toll-free hotline for complaints about abuses, he said.