ANNAPOLIS – Even though its end is still three days away, Gov. Parris N. Glendening Thursday proclaimed the first General Assembly session of the new century a success, as his priority goals – gun safety, education and tobacco- related health programs – survived the scrutiny of the Legislature’s 188 lawmakers largely intact.
“It looks like it’s going to be an absolutely tremendous session,” Glendening said, “not just for the lieutenant governor and I, but for all of the people of the state.”
Glendening said 20 of his 21 high-priority bills would be signed into law at the close of the session – the lone standout being his plan to address water quality issues by requiring homeowners to install low-nitrogen septic systems.
“It’s an issue that’s not going away,” Glendening said.
The bill would require installation of expensive nitrogen-removal technology in new or replaced septic systems of people living in watershed- sensitive areas. Research has shown that excess nitrogen can cause water quality problems.
“People will get concerned when the water in reservoirs goes bad,” Glendening said.
In addition to legislation requiring childproof handguns, Glendening’s priorities included a plan to make the state competitive in worldwide e- commerce, construction and redevelopment codes to curb sprawl, programs to fight tobacco addiction and cancer, and the state’s massive operating and capital budgets.
“The budget was approved almost exactly as I had sent it down,” Glendening said of his $19.6 billion operating budget.
The final House and Senate versions cut about $100 million in operating expenses, and shuffled some of Glendening’s spending, but kept most of his priorities intact.
Some lawmakers argue that those changes should have cut much deeper.
“We came in here with a $1 billion (budget) surplus,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, “and the governor increased the (operating) budget by $2 million.”
Madden and other Republicans are worried the state will increase services on the false hope that the booming economy will continue indefinitely.
“If the economy doesn’t perform perfectly,” Madden said, “we’re looking at service cuts or increased taxes in the very near future.”
A Glendening spokesman disagreed, saying exceptional economic gains merely boost the state’s reserve funds and the operating budget doesn’t depend on them.
The hottest topic in Annapolis this session by far was safe gun legislation – and the governor used “the power of his office” and his supplemental budget to make lawmakers see his point of view.
Glendening released $181 million in his second and final supplemental budget Saturday, hours after lawmakers finalized a watered-down version of his controversial smart guns bill.
After fierce debate, the Legislature agreed to a bill making mechanical trigger locks an integral part of all handguns sold in the state by 2003.
Glendening’s original bill would have required built-in locks by 2002 and smart guns – handguns that could only be fired by an authorized user – by 2003.
Asked whether the additional money was timed that way on purpose, Glendening responded, “It should never surprise anyone that you hold the bulk of that package back until you get what you want.”
The final version of the bill has 90 percent of the features Glendening wanted, he said, and will serve to focus the gun safety debate nationwide and “clearly will save lives.”
Some high-powered Washington types apparently agree with the governor: President Clinton will travel to Annapolis Tuesday when Glendening signs the bill.