A committee of the Maryland House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved tough new enforcement powers today for the incoming government regulator of state-chartered savings and loan associations, a former savings and loan executive who was named by Gov. Harry Hughes to the watchdog post shortly after the committee vote.

As one panel member dozed in his seat, the House Economic Matters Committee voted 20 to 0 to approve a measure giving broad new regulatory authority to the director of the state Division of Savings and Loan Associations, as well as restraints on the activities of state-chartered savings associations and criminal and civil penalties for violations.

Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's) dozed fitfully during the committee meeting and was recorded as being absent during the vote on the bill, which many legislators regard as one of the most important of the 1986 Assembly.

If the S&L bill remains intact as it moves through the legislature, one of its principal beneficiaries will be William M. Griffin, the 42-year-old president of the Municipal Employees Credit Union of Baltimore, who was named director of the savings and loan division today.

Hughes announced the appointment of Griffin to the $54,500-a-year post a half hour after the House committee vote, saying Griffin had "an unquestioned reputation for integrity."

Griffin will replace Charles H. Brown Jr., a former S&L executive who was division director until Hughes forced him to retire last summer, after the onset of Maryland's severe savings and loan crisis.

Griffin, who was executive vice president of federally insured thrifts in Elkton, Md., and Pennsylvania, has been head of the Baltimore credit union for four years, which he said was ample time to establish an "arm's length" distance from Maryland savings associations.

"I have no allegiance to anybody," Griffin said. "I come in as an independent."

The close relationship between S&L division director Brown and Maryland's runaway thrift industry was cited in a special state report as a chief cause of the crisis, which entered its ninth month this week and still leaves more than 110,000 depositors with virtually no access to $1.2 billion in savings.

Wilbur D. Preston Jr., the special counsel who wrote the report, also drafted the omnibus reform bill approved by the Economic Matters Committee today. The measure now moves to the full House, which is expected to pass it next week.

Meanwhile, four standing committees of the state Senate and a special select panel on savings and loans also are considering key portions of the bill.

Some legislators have criticized the measure as being too onerous for healthy state-chartered thrifts. But others have defended it as a badly needed regulatory reform and a public-relations gesture for a General Assembly that received its share of blame for the S&L debacle.

"The reason I'm voting for this is that people perceive it to be a cure-all for the problems," said Del. R. Terry Connelly (D-Baltimore), a member of the Economic Matters panel.

The House committee made more than 60 technical amendments to the measure, leaving intact its intended purpose to rein in the industry. For example, the legislation would force savings and loans to limit their commercial loans -- once an industry staple -- to only 10 percent of their assets.

In addition, the measure would prohibit state-chartered savings and loans from investing most of their funds outside the four states contiguous to Maryland and the District of Columbia.

One committee amendment relaxed that rule somewhat to allow federally insured thrift associations in Maryland to invest a maximum of 10 percent of their assets outside that region.

Last week, the committee narrowly defeated an amendment that would have allowed state-chartered associations to invest in 14 Southeastern states and the District. Some industry lobbyists said they intend to press for passage of that change in the Senate.