It was the Year of the Swan Song for a memorable class of state legislators in Annapolis -- and to their credit the final act was a surprisingly good one. There weren't a whole lot of rosy forecasts about this session when it opened in January under a heavy cloud of savings and loan troubles; and though those troubles are neither over nor adequately addressed by the S&L legislation enacted, other important and difficult business got done with a degree of distinction. That has to be a special source of pride for Benjamin L. Cardin, who has been the speaker of the house since 1979 and who has wrapped up an impressive 20-year career in the legislature to run for Congress. Mr. Cardin's keen sense of state finances, of legislative ethics and of consensus management served the state exceptionally well.

Mr. Cardin and Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg did not let the S&L crisis or the election year become a reason or even an excuse for failing to meet other responsibilities. A prime example of these achievements is legislation to slow what have become alarming increases in liability insurance rates by limiting "pain and suffering" jury awards in personal injury suits to $350,000. Another -- while not all that Speaker Cardin had wished for -- was an increase in state aid for education.

It would been easy, too, to set aside measures to protect the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay or to postpone action on expanded reporting requirements for lobbyists and lawmakers, a seat-belt law and rental subsidies for low-income people. But these proposals won approvals, as did -- after years of misfiring -- one to strip the men-only Burning Tree Club in Bethesda of a tax break if the club insists on barring women.

Perhaps Mr. Cardin is exaggerating just a little when he says, "I know of no legislature that has accomplished quite so much in helping people." But certainly it could have done far less and still exceeded the production of those sessions in the bad old days when money and politicians talked more and did less. That should be a source of comfort to those in Maryland who may wonder just how well the legislature is assuming the increasing responsibilities that are falling on state governments everywhere.