Conferees from the House of Delegates disagreed sharply with their counterparts from the state Senate tonight and rejected a series of Senate proposals that they said would allow unscrupulous savings and loan owners to abuse new S&L regulations.
However, in a concession that could have political ramifications later this year, the House members tentatively agreed to a controversial provision that would force legislators to reveal any large withdrawals they made last spring from several "high-flying" thrift associations.
The compromise on the disclosure proposal apparently removes a key hurdle for the House-Senate conference committee as it works to produce a final savings and loan reform bill before the General Assembly adjourns next Monday.
The S&L regulatory reform bill, one of the most sensitive of this legislative session, is designed to prevent the industry abuses and lax government oversight that contributed to the collapse of the industry's private insurance system last May.
The three House members of the conference committee on the bill tonight firmly rejected about a third of the 66 amendments the Senate had added. The delegates contended that many of the Senate's changes weakened the stringent bill as first written by Wilbur D. Preston Jr., the special state counsel who investigated the origins of Maryland's S&L crisis.
"Doesn't this fly in the face of what Preston's been trying to tell us?" Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) said during a discussion of the real estate investments that savings and loans would be allowed to make.
The members of the House, which passed the Preston bill largely in its original form, rejected as too flexible the Senate amendments that would expand a geographic region for real estate investments, allow small S&Ls to escape from certain regulations and give confidentiality to thrift officers in public financial statements.
On Monday and again today, a Senate amendment to the bill requiring public officials to disclose S&L withdrawals threatened to disrupt the conference committee's negotiations.
As the committee convened today, state Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. (D-Montgomery), author of the disclosure rule, scrambled to have the amendment rewritten to make it palatable to Gov. Harry Hughes and a legislature that is increasingly anxious about its implications.
As drafted, Bainum's amendment would have required Hughes to compile a record of those officials and family members who acted on "inside information" by withdrawing funds from several thrifts before those associations collapsed and to submit a confidential list of those withdrawals to legislative leaders by July 1, two months before statewide primary elections.
Earlier today, Del. Frederick C. Rummage (D-Prince George's), the leader of the House conferees, suggested the original amendment could lead to a "witch hunt" against politicians who may have innocently withdrawn their deposits.
But tonight, at a second conference committee meeting, Rummage agreed to a more narrow amendment requiring public officials to file supplementary financial disclosure forms with the State Ethics Commission if they withdrew more than $10,000 from a savings and loan based on information "not generally available to the public." The ethics reports would be due Aug. 1.
The conference committee is scheduled to resume its work on Wednesday.