Concluding the work of the 2000 legislative session, Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed more than 200 bills into law yesterday, including a measure aimed at giving teachers a 10 percent raise over two years.
The governor also signed bills increasing Maryland's HOPE scholarships for students who go into teaching and improving the benefits offered through the state's tuition savings program.
"Providing a quality education for our children, from preschool through college, is the key to our future prosperity," Glendening said.
Other bills signed will:
Require some health insurers to fund a prescription drug benefit for as many as 15,000 Marylanders over the age of 65. The benefit will be available to residents of rural areas and will require co-payments and deductibles.
Strengthen the state's prepaid college tuition plan. The measure establishes a guarantee that the program will provide the tuition benefits it advertises. A second bill creates a more flexible tuition-savings program, the College Investment Plan. Both plans provide tax benefits to parents saving for college costs.
Require tests for lead poisoning for children who live in areas with high rates of such poisoning. The tests will be required beginning in 2003.
Eliminate the inheritance tax for direct heirs such as children and siblings. That will cost the state about $23 million a year in lost revenue, according to legislative analysts.
The bill providing teacher pay raises was the governor's centerpiece education initiative of the session. It breaks with precedent by committing state funds to help pay teacher salaries, which usually are set and funded by local school systems.
Under the bill, if a county gives its teachers a 4 percent raise this year or next, the state will provide an additional 1 percent increase.
"There's no question that part of the reason we're not getting our best and brightest to go into teaching is the salaries," the governor said.
The legislation could cost state taxpayers more than $70 million over two years.
A second measure backed by the governor and designed to address a possible teacher shortage in Maryland will increase HOPE scholarships for education students to $5,000 a year from $3,000. Students must meet income-eligibility standards and maintain a B average in high school and college to qualify.
Increasing the scholarships will add an estimated $3.8 million to the cost of the HOPE program, bringing it to $16.7 million.
Yesterday's signing was the fourth and last for the governor in the wake of the 2000 General Assembly session. He announced this week that he was vetoing 10 bills.