| Legislative scorecard |
Lawmakers also approved a plan designed to give public school teachers a 10 percent raise, passed a bill to cut Maryland's inheritance tax and agreed to create a state subsidy for airlines offering commuter service between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Cumberland, Hagerstown and St. Mary's County.
"It's a real tragedy for the black community that we lost such a promising bill that would have set a national standard," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the bill's chief sponsor.
Yesterday's action capped a session highlighted by the passage of a landmark gun-safety measure pushed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, which will require built-in locks on all handguns sold in the state beginning in 2003.
Before yesterday's final flurry, legislators had wrapped up work on the state's $19.5 billion operating budget for next year - a spending plan built lavishly on a $1 billion surplus.
Thanks to the surplus, lawmakers allocated money for an unprecedented building boom, a 4 percent raise for state employees and an 11 percent increase in funding for Maryland's higher education system.
The budget breaks new ground by including $6 million for textbooks for private schools - a provision approved over the protests of public school advocates and civil libertarians who objected to sending state money to religious schools.
Despite the state's enormous surplus, lawmakers opted not to approve any major tax breaks, concluding that the 10 percent income tax cut passed in 1997 and being phased in through 2002 would suffice.
The Assembly did pass one significant tax bill last night - to eliminate the state's levy on inheritances for some heirs.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. favored abolishing the tax, at an eventual cost to the state of about $50 million annually. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wanted a less costly alternative that would have eliminated the tax only for certain heirs - children, grandchildren, parents and spouses.
The final version will abolish the tax paid by those heirs, as well as siblings, but leave it in place for "collateral" heirs such as nieces and nephews.
Glendening supported a cut in the tax and helped broker the final deal during late negotiations with legislative leaders.
The tax bill, like all legislation, must be signed by the governor before it can become law.
Children often are poisoned by dust from flaking and peeling lead paint. The paint was widely used before it was banned in Baltimore in 1951, and nationwide in 1978.
Although federal health guidelines recommend lead screening, only a fraction of children at risk are now being tested. In Baltimore, about one-third of children under age 6 were tested in 1998, according to state records.