With only six days left in the legislative session and major differences still to be resolved, the Maryland Senate approved a measure today to establish a statewide stadium authority and the House accepted a bill to cap certain jury awards in personal injury lawsuits.
Both houses have agreed that the sports authority, which Gov. Harry Hughes proposed as an umbrella group vested with broad powers to oversee the state's $1.1 billion sports industry, will now be responsible for football and baseball played in a new or renovated Baltimore area stadium. But senators from metropolitan Baltimore amended the bill heavily and argued that a new facility is not needed to replace Memorial Stadium.
In the version that emerged today from the Senate on a 31-to-16 vote, the stadium authority will be made up of five members from across the state. But they must consult with the General Assembly and Board of Public Works before entering into any contracts concerning renovation or new construction of a stadium.
The Senate measure, which survived filibuster threats and two days of lengthy debate, is now significantly different from the House-approved measure and the conflicts must be worked out in a conference committee.
If the conference committee strips the Senate amendments from the bill, Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore) said, "I don't think we will have any bill this year."
Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, a Washington lawyer, came under specific attack because of his expressed preference that a new stadium be built. Baltimore officials fear that Williams may move the Orioles to another city, as Robert Irsay moved his Colts football team in 1984.
"The city is being held hostage by Mr. Williams . . . because he wants to make every cent possible," said Lapides.
Sen. Thomas Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), a member of the sports commission that drafted the original legislation, defended Williams. "The man is merely trying to make a buck," Bromwell said. "The mere fact that he's a millionaire, does that make him a bad person?"
As amended, the bill will create a powerless sports authority, Bromwell said. Without a new stadium, Bromwell added, "We'll be a town with no baseball team, with no [NFL] football team . . . on a line with cities like Roanoke, like Butte, Montana. Mayberry is what we'll be."
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore), who supports a stronger sports authority, decried the Senate vote. "It's been handled so poorly, I'm not surprised it got messed up," he said.
On the insurance issue, the House of Delegates approved the ceiling on jury awards on a vote of 117 to 13 after two days of debate and several failed attempts to modify the measure. One of the most controversial bills of the session, the measure would cap awards for noneconomic or so-called "pain and suffering" losses at $425,000 in all personal injury lawsuits. The proposal is the key piece of a legislative package intended to curb escalating insurance premiums by making lawsuits more difficult and less lucrative to bring.
Although legislative leaders have called the insurance issue among the most important of the session, they and their members have been sharply divided over how far the proposed reforms should go and whether they will bring insurance rates down.
That debate and the divisions continued today when the House passed the bill in a dramatically different form than the one previously approved by the full Senate, and by overwhelming margins turned aside amendments that would have made the House bill more similar to the Senate version.
As the matter now stands, the Senate bill applies only to medical malpractice lawsuits and allows defendants in a lawsuit to reveal payments that victims have already received from an injury, such as from insurance. The House bill applies to all personal injury cases and does not allow so-called third party payments to be revealed at trial. The Senate cap is also lower, at $350,000.
Nevertheless, officials in both houses said they are confident that a compromise can be reached in conference, which they hoped would begin with 24 hours.