April in Annapolis is not always as easy as was last night's sine die. Despite the inevitable last-minute skirmishing, this legislative session wound down to a relatively calm close -- without even Opening Day or Easter-Passover weekend to interrupt lawmakers' concentration. Most of the big battles had either been resolved, such as the defeat of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's attempt to restore Medicaid funding for abortion. Or, like casino gambling and tax cut proposals, they had been postponed for future consideration. Whatever else may be remembered about this inaugural session for the Glendening administration, it will not go down in history as a time of grand political passions.
It was instead a time for new legislators and a new governor to find their footing. That's no simple task when 44 percent of legislators were new to the General Assembly and to the rough-and-tumble process of making laws -- and when the governor is cautiously feeling his way after a razor-thin election victory that was challenged almost to the moment of his inaugural oath.
Even so, this session produced some victories. A workplace smoking ban was watered down, but it still represents a dramatic step forward in clearing the air in working environments throughout the state. Legislators also strengthened domestic violence laws, requiring, among other things, that police arrest abusive partners who violate court orders of protection. Another new law makes it easier to get convictions on drunken driving charges by stating that a blood alcohol content of .10 or more is absolute proof of drunken driving.
Tougher requirements for lobbyists' reports of their gifts, a pilot program for welfare reform and legislators' stubborn attraction to the country's only legislative scholarship program -- a stash of some $8.5 million for senators and delegates to hand out this year -- all proved contentious into the closing hours of the session. Important as the issues may be, none of these battles furnished the fierce passions of previous legislative stand-offs.
If this session lacked high drama, it did at least avoid dramatic mistakes. And any legislature that behaves responsibly with taxpayer money deserves great credit. A major achievement of this session was passage of a fiscally sound budget featuring a safety net of $250 million. That reserve money can help pay for future tax cuts, unless it is needed to compensate for the loss of federal aid.
Rest easy, Marylanders. Legislators played a careful and responsible game this year. They may not have solved many problems, but they didn't do much harm, either.