ANNAPOLIS – If the 1999 General Assembly session was the education session, Marylanders ain’t seen nothing yet.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening promised to spend the three remaining years of his term continuing his focus on improving education and combating urban sprawl.
“There aren’t going to be any surprises,” he said Friday afternoon during a meeting with reporters. “I’m boring in my consistency.”
Of the more than 2,600 bills approved by the legislature, the governor had many wins, particularly in the approval of several parts of his education agenda.
Two bills, however, are in jeopardy, and may face his veto.
He is considering rejecting a bill that provides immunity to businesses that may experience problems due to computer glitches at the turn of the millenium to the year 2000.
Other state’s bills make exceptions for problems that cause bodily harm or death. The bill doesn’t, he said. That’s a problem.
“I try to put myself in terms of the average citizen,” the governor said. “I’m still looking at it, but I have not heard one convincing argument to sign it. I don’t think we should do this.”
Another bill in danger of veto prohibits a person from knowingly assisting another individual in killing himself. Glendening said he has received piles of mail on the issue since it passed and he is concerned that the bill is too broad.
“Most of the mail coming into the office is on the assisted suicide issue,” he said. The bill might deter some doctors from easing a patient’s final days, or in helping them to “die with dignity.”
“I want to make sure we (the state) do not intrude inappropriately.”
The governor must determine the destiny of these bills by June 1. After that, he must begin plotting his next legislative course.
While Glendening campaigned last year heavily on education issues, he spent a significant amount of time on urban sprawl complaints, a topic he said is at the forefront of his thought.
“Sprawl” refers to the widening of cities and destruction of surrounding open space for additional highways, homes and businesses.
“People understand now that devastation is occurring in the environment and local communities because of sprawl,” he said. “Next to education, stopping sprawl will probably be the most significant contribution by the eight years of this administration.”
The issue of “smart growth” has pitted communities against each other as previously planned projects were killed because they were not in line with the governor’s anti-sprawl policies.
“We do have a long way to go,” Glendening predicted. “And the decisions, one by one, are going to be very difficult.”
Future sessions could see curbs on waste runoff from large, industrialized chicken and hog farms, the governor said. Several agricultural groups are already investigating possible solutions to the environmental problem that has caused controversies in both Carroll and Frederick counties. “When you, all of a sudden, put 10,000 hogs on a cement slab and wash that waste into the water, it causes huge problems,” he said. “It’s not like we just don’t have strict regulations for this – we don’t have any regulations for this because this is a brand new thing that has emerged in the environmental community in Maryland.” The governor, who has been nicknamed the “education governor,” said that while his previous years focused on grades K through 12, he hopes to shift his attention to higher education in the last years of his administration. “What I’m proud of is that this last session of the last century made education the focus without even a big debate,” he said. “Education is a long- term process. For all eight years the dominant issue is going to be education. It’s important that we don’t have crazy zigzags in education policy.” This session, his education plans were warmly received by the legislature. The General Assembly earmarked $255 million for school construction funds, $5 million more than the governor requested. They approved his HOPE scholarships, which offer education students at Maryland universities grant money if they agree to become teachers in the state upon graduation. The legislature also passed a Glendening measure to limit the size of first- and second-grade reading classes to 20 students. Glendening preferred to revel a bit in his accomplishments this term rather than provide ideas of what he will focus on in his next legislative agenda. “I think we’re in excellent shape,” he said. “It’s absolutely great what we’ve done all this in one session.”