ANNAPOLIS – A Maryland Welfare Summit – bringing together the views of national and state lawmakers, experts and citizens – has been set for February 27 here.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, planned the summit to give legislators a chance to get different perspectives on welfare reform.
“This summit will aid the process of reaching a decision,” said Rawlings, who also chairs the House Appropriations Committee, where much reform legislation is heard.
Rawlings’ own welfare reform bill is among about 20 already introduced this year.
“Welfare reform is a heightened public policy issue, especially with so many new members in the House,” he said. “It is important to expose [lawmakers] to people of different political persuasion.”
Among those scheduled to speak is New Jersey State Sen. Wayne R. Bryant. Three years ago, the Camden Democrat fathered a controversial welfare reform package in his state that is similar to Rawling’s proposal.
“Our bills have a lot of common features,” Rawlings said, mentioning two:
– A provision to increase welfare recipients’ assets by not counting some savings towards welfare eligibility.
– A so-called family cap, which would deny cash payments to children born of pregnancies begun after a woman goes on welfare.
Last year former Gov. William Donald Schaefer refused to sign a welfare reform bill after the legislature eliminated the family cap, which had become mired in a battle between abortion rights and anti-abortion legislators.
At the summit, lawmakers will be able to get a state-by- state perspective from Sheri E. Steisel of the National Conference of State Legislatures, who also is scheduled to speak.
In addition, the summit will include three panels – one of Maryland welfare recipients, one of Maryland welfare caseworkers, and one of various welfare experts.
“It’s important to expose legislators to as many people as possible, from the national experts…to the people on the firing line down in the trenches,” Rawlings said.
Invited experts are from various think tanks – the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Brookings Institution, according to Rawlings.
Members of the General Assembly will be invited to hear presentations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., tentatively scheduled in the Joint Hearing Room in the Legislative Reference Building.
And with the announcement of the summit, hearings on senate welfare bills were postponed – including one Tuesday – so that legislators can be better prepared. House hearings, however, will take place as scheduled.
Rawlings compared the Welfare Summit to a similar Health Care Summit that Taylor coordinated as chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee in 1992.
“That summit had a very positive impact on the deliberations in passing major health care reform legislation in Maryland,” Rawlings said, referring to the 1993 law that expanded health care coverage to Maryland citizens.
“We always try to emulate success,” he added. -30-