Members of the Maryland House of Delegates, feeling the burden of a persistent savings and loan crisis, approved measures today that would maintain the current system of deposit insurance, facilitate the sale of two distressed thrift associations and blanket the government with immunity from civil lawsuits arising from the financial disaster.
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) quashed a morning revolt by more than 50 House members and won approval of a bill that would preserve the state's current system of insuring each S&L account for $100,000 rather than insuring each depositor for $100,000. The measure also would insulate the state government from civil actions that disgruntled depositors might file to speed return of their frozen funds.
Later in the day, the House Economic Matters Committee approved a related bill that would set up a shield of state "sovereign immunity" against lawsuits related to the savings and loan crisis and another measure that would facilitate the sales of the crippled Community and First Maryland savings and loans, two Montgomery County-based thrifts.
This morning, a bill that was radically changed last week by the Economic Matters panel sparked one of the most intense debates yet of the legislative session.
The debate turned in the end on the merits of a pledge the General Assembly made last May to insure every S&L account up to $100,000.
As originally filed by Del. R. Terry Connelly (D-Baltimore), the bill would have changed the insurance on accounts to a per-depositor basis.
Since some savings and loan depositors have more than one account, Connelly's change would have reduced the state's liability in the savings and loan crisis by millions of dollars.
Connelly's colleagues on the House committee rewrote the bill to preserve the per-account rule, and Cardin and his lieutenants on the floor of the House of Representatives closed ranks today to defeat an attempt to restore the bill to its original form.
"The credibility of the legislature and this state is on the line," said Economic Matters Chairman Frederick C. Rummage (D-Prince George's), the first in a long string of House leaders who rose to speak in opposition to the amended measure.
"A change in direction at this time would have a devastating effect on our reputation," added House Minority Leader Robert R. Neall (R-Anne Arundel).
However, there was considerable sentiment, particularly from delegates who represent more rural parts of Maryland, that the promise the state government made in the first heat of the S&L crisis last spring was invalid.
"I don't believe we should be bound by a decision we made in a crisis," said Del. William A. Clark (R-Harford). "This is a small step in decreasing our liability."
The amended bill was finally approved 78 to 54.
Later, Rummage's committee passed, 16 to 5, a broader measure that effectively would deny legal standing to persons filing claims against the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), the state agency that controls four crippled thrift associations.
The bill also includes new provisions to facilitate the sales of Community and First Maryland savings and loan firms.
A companion measure, approved by the House panel, also would facilitate the sale of the two Montgomery thrifts. For instance, key provisions would allow Mellon Bank Corp. of Pennsylvania, which is negotiating to buy Community, to acquire Community's assets rather than its stock, and to buy bank holding companies in Maryland.