Gov. William Donald Schaefer did the right thing by signing a bill permitting Baltimore City to experiment with a needle-exchange program in an attempt to combat the AIDS epidemic. Although the governor does not personally approve of free needle exchanges, he had the courage to recognize the AIDS situation demands some unusual responses.
"It is so easy to say no, stay the same, don't take any chances, not be progressive," Mr. Schaefer said at this week's bill-signing session in Annapolis. That is not the Schaefer way, though. He was willing to give Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke the leeway to try an unorthodox approach to cut down on the number of HIV-positive individuals among the city's 48,000 drug addicts.
We urge the governor to continue to display that kind of courage in deciding which bills still on his desk ought to be vetoed. It won't be an easy choice in many cases.
For instance, the welfare-reform bill has drawn the governor's ire for not including a "family cap" provision that would remove the financial incentive welfare mothers now have to give birth to more children. Yet the rest of the bill should please Mr. Schaefer. It sets up a three-county pilot program in which 2,000 recipients will be given 18 months to find jobs -- and help in becoming self-sufficient.
We think the governor should set aside his anger over the exclusion of a "family cap" and sign this bill into law. It would, at the least, mark a small step forward in trying to change the existing welfare system. It would be a progressive move by the governor.
But Mr. Schaefer should not be so quick to sign another bill doubling the amount of time prisoners must spend in jail before they could be paroled. The price tag on this bill is enormous: at least $30 million a year, plus some $100 million in new construction costs to house an additional 500 inmates. The governor will have to weigh the benefits against the high expenses that the state would be saddled with for years to come.
A third bill shouldn't give Mr. Schaefer much trouble. This measure makes English the state government's official language. It is a superfluous bill that raises questions of subtle racism and xenophobia. This measure accomplishes nothing except cluttering the state's law books. We urge the governor to give this worthless but intentionally mischievous bill the veto it deserves.