Issues Update - End of Session, May 2005
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Wrap-up – What matters to you?
Big Money for School Construction
Working Toward Lower Property Taxes
Identity Theft Prevention
Health Care Progress for Everyone
Making Health Care Safer: Hospital Infection Rates
The More You Know: Clinical Trials Database
Slots, Slots, Slots
Some Final Thoughts
back on the 2005 Legislative Session, I find myself surprised that
the time I have spent here in Annapolis has truly
been just 90
days. This has been an exceptionally busy session for me and for
my colleagues in the General Assembly, and much has been achieved.
like to share with you just a few of the accomplishments that I find
most significant from this, my eleventh session in Annapolis.
Malpractice back to top
the first time in my many years in the Maryland House of Delegates,
we were called into a Special Session to address the crisis of rising
costs for medical malpractice insurance. The 33% increase in premiums
in one year threatened to push some doctors out of their practices
and drastically reduce access to health care throughout the state.
In response, the Speaker of the House, Michael Busch, proposed a
solution that provides doctors with immediate and long-term rate
relief. The bill caps premium increase rates at 5% for the next several
years and creates an Insurance Stabilization Fund. With an eye to
the future, the bill also addresses tort and insurance reform. It
improves patient safety by making it easier for the Board of Physicians
to discipline doctors and by adding malpractice information to the
data collected by the Maryland Patient Safety Center.
intense debate, we passed HB 2 on December 30, 2004 at about 3:00
AM. Fifteen amendments were discussed in the House alone, and a Conference
Committee convened to find a compromise between the Senate and House
changes to the bill. Governor Ehrlich vetoed HB 2, but on January
11, 2005, the General Assembly voted to override his veto. Because
the bill was emergency legislation, it took effect immediately. The
very next day, we returned to the State House for the opening of
this year’s regular session.
Money for School Construction back
to top of page
a former art teacher, I am a firm believer in the important role
that education and the public schools play in our society and our
communities. School facilities provide a crucial learning environment
for our children and are the literal foundation of education. While
there has been much debate over how best to fund school construction,
there is agreement among legislators and citizens alike that a strong
funding commitment to these projects is a vital investment in Maryland’s
children. To follow through on this important contribution, the General
Assembly allocated $250 million to build and renovate schools statewide.
This sum reflects an increase of $100 million added by the House
of Delegates to Governor Ehrlich’s proposed investment. Howard
County will receive about $15 million to construct and enhance school
Toward Lower Property Taxes back
to top of page
the money available for school construction shows, the increasingly
positive financial picture in the state has made many good things
possible. But it has carried with it some negative side effects as
well. I consider it my responsibility as a Delegate to try to provide
relief from these burdens. In response to the escalating property
values across the state, the House of Delegates proposed a measure
that would have reduced property taxes by almost five cents per $100
of assessed value. If the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act
had passed with this amendment, property taxes would have returned
to the level in effect from 1981 until 2003, when Governor Ehrlich
increased the rate to 13.2 cents.
the property tax reduction did not pass. However, I am optimistic
that we will revisit this issue in the 2006 session, and my disappointment
is tempered by the many constructive outcomes these 90 days did produce.
Two of my personal successes were HB 56: Consumer Protection - Privacy
of Social Security Numbers and HB 719: Health Occupations - State
Board of Examiners in Optometry - Scope of Practice.
Theft Prevention back to
top of page
ranks thirteenth in identity theft complaints, with both Laurel and
Columbia among the top five victim locations in the state. The rates
of this terrible crime are growing rapidly with help from the all-too-common
use of Social Security numbers (SSN) as identification codes by insurance
companies and a variety of other businesses. HB 56 was signed into
law to put a stop to the widespread insecure transmission of Social
Security numbers and to help prevent identity theft before it occurs.
The new law prohibits public posting of any SSN, printing a SSN on
an insurance card or other ID which must be shown for services, unencrypted
Internet transmission of your SSN, and mailing of documents which
have a SSN printed on them. I am very pleased with the passage of
this bill after three years of hard work on this issue. When there
are simple things we can do to protect ourselves from crimes like
identity theft, it seems only logical that we take action. The legislature
took this idea to heart this session, passing five bills aimed at
eliminating this appalling crime.
Care Progress for Everyone back
to top of page
is always a great pleasure to see a bill pass after years of dedicated
effort on an issue. Some solutions take longer than others, as is
the case with HB 719: Health Occupations - State Board of Examiners
in Optometry - Scope of Practice. This bill helps provide affordable,
accessible vision care to Marylanders by allowing optometrists to
administer topical steroids (eye drops) to their patients under certain
circumstances. The favorable report on HB 719 also marks a major
step in resolving the fifteen-year-old dispute between optometrists
and ophthalmologists over the appropriate scope of practice in optometry.
I am "OPTOMistic" that this advance will help to improve
patient care across the state.
719 was doubly rewarding for me because it was not only a bill that
I sponsored, but also a bill assigned to my subcommittee. My new
position as chair of the Health Occupations Subcommittee has allowed
me to serve as mediator in the optometry-ophthalmology debate and
in a number of other controversies as well. The successful and encouraging
outcomes we produced in subcommittee have led my colleagues in the
Health and Government Operations Committee (HGO) to joke that I should
go to the Middle East to moderate peace negotiations.
we do joke in HGO, we also work very hard. This session our efforts
paid off with many bills of which we can all be proud. Here are just
a few examples:
324 became law to provide prescription drug assistance to the 30,000
Maryland senior citizens with household incomes at or below 300%
of poverty level. This new law supplements often insufficient Medicare
benefits by helping pay the premiums and deductibles on medicines
our seniors need.
passage of HB 1143 expanded eligibility for the Maryland Pharmacy
Discount Program to include about 37,000 Marylanders who do not qualify
for Medicare and who do not have prescription drug coverage.
HB 627, we created a Health Care Safety Net to help provide uninsured
Marylanders access to health care at community health centers. This
bill passed the House by a large margin and then passed the Senate
to become law with only one dissenting vote.
to increase access to health care, we passed HB 1284: Fair Share
Health Care Act to require big businesses to contribute to their
employees’ health insurance, either directly or by helping
to pay for the Maryland Medical Assistance Program. This important
new law will benefit all Marylanders by leveling the playing field
between employers who offer good health coverage and those who do
not. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed this bill. The Legislature
will have the opportunity to override this veto on the first day
of the 2006 session.
796, the Medical Decision-Making Act will allow committed couples,
regardless of sexual orientation, the same medical, funeral, and
hospital visitation rights as couples who are married. This bill
was passed by both chambers, but was also vetoed by Governor Ehrlich.
we passed HB 1183 to create a Stem Cell Research Fund as well as
cancer screening and treatment programs, all using Cigarette Restitution
Fund money. This money would have funded embryonic stem cell studies
only on cells derived from umbilical cord blood and in vitro fertilization.
A threat of Senate filibuster prevented HB 1183 from becoming law,
despite being passed by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental
you can see, this was a very productive session. In Committee and
in Subcommittee, we passed many important bills for Maryland. I am
pleased to have been a part of these successes. I also learned valuable
lessons from bills that did not pass. There are several issues I
hope to revisit in 2006 to put this new knowledge to good use. Among
these are two particular concerns: reporting of healthcare-associated
infections and clinical drug trial disclosure. I introduced the following
bills for the first time this session, understanding that many bills
require several years of debate to become law. I am optimistic that
continued discussion and effort will pay off in both of these cases
to the benefit of all Marylanders.
Health Care Safer: Hospital Infection Rates back
to top of page
may not know that more people die every year as a result of infections
they acquire while patients in healthcare facilities than from homicide
and car accidents combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimate that 90,000 people nationwide are killed annually by these
deadly infections. However, hospitals are not required to report
the rates of these infections to anyone - not to the licensing authority,
not to the government, and most importantly, not to their patients.
As it stands now, consumers like you cannot get this information,
the crucial details you need to make safe healthcare decisions. I
introduced HB 199: Hospital Infections Disclosure Act in response
to requests from constituents concerned about improving patient outcomes
in hospitals across the state. The bill was intended to ensure public
access to data about Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI) in the
form of an annual report comparing Maryland hospitals’ rates
in a fair and risk-adjusted way.
As I researched the issue and through the course of debate on this
legislation, I learned that Maryland hospitals are working to solve
the problem of HAI. I worked closely with the hospitals to cooperate
with their approaches to the situation, and amended HB 199 to take
their efforts into account. Maryland leads the nation in healthcare
accountability as one of the first states to adopt a "Hospital
Report Card," called the Maryland Hospital Performance Evaluation
Guide (MPEG). HB 199 would have required this resource to include information
on hospital infections. (You can access MPEG online at http://hospitalguide.mhcc.state.md.us/.)
199 in its final form would have facilitated progress toward the
goal shared by patients and hospitals alike: improved patient outcomes.
It acknowledged the significant work of the hospitals to reduce infection
rates without overlooking the importance of publicly reporting these
measures. Furthermore, it had the full support of Maryland hospitals,
the Consumers Union, and the Maryland Health Care Commission. The
bill passed the House with almost unanimous approval. However, in
spite of the lack of opposition, the Senate Finance Committee voted
HB 199 unfavorable. But this is not the end of the story. With all
of the progress made toward making HAI reporting a reality, I plan
to reintroduce this bill in the 2006 session. I am confident that
the Hospital Infections Disclosure Act will reinforce the efforts
of Maryland hospitals, as well as make this crucial information available
to consumers like you.
More You Know: Clinical Trials Database back
to top of page
of access to health care information can be deadly both inside a
hospital and outside of it. While hospital patients are denied data
about infections, prescription drug consumers are also being kept
in the dark, and the failure to report on clinical drug trials can
have serious results. Countless doctors prescribed Paxil to children
and adolescents because they were not informed that this antidepressant
actually increases the risk of suicidal thoughts in young patients.
The studies that revealed this danger were never released to the
public. Meanwhile, patients who are searching for new treatment alternatives
do not have the information they need to seek out trials that could
help them. Publicizing these trials just makes sense.
1997 the Federal Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of
1997 established a Federal database called ClinicalTrials.gov and
required companies to register trials, but many companies have not
complied with this law. According to FDA officials, there has been
no enforcement of violations. The Journal of the American Medical
Association, supported by an independent FDA study, asserts that
more than half of all clinical trials are not registered.
reinforce the Federal efforts to remedy this alarming situation,
this session I introduced HB 54 entitled Health - Clinical Trials
Data Bank. The bill would have required all clinical trials that
occur in Maryland to be registered with the Federal Clinical Trials
Data Bank. It also contained monetary penalties for failure to register,
and authorized the Attorney General to enforce this law. Unfortunately,
although the bill passed both the House and the Senate, it did so
without the monetary penalties.
The Senate equivalent of this bill, SB 681 entitled Health - Clinical
Trials - Data Bank Information and Publication of Results, also passed
both houses. While on the same topic, these two bills differed slightly.
Both had positive aspects that strengthened the Federal law, including
annual reporting of violations and increased accountability. This issue
went to a Conference Committee that unfortunately was not able to come
to agreement. The result was that HB 54 / SB 681 did not pass this
session; however, I am planning on introducing HB 54 again next year.
Slots, Slots back to top
you probably know, the House passed a slots bill this session. HB
1361 would have allowed as many as 9,500 slot machines in four Maryland
counties. There has been much debate and controversy over the ever-present
issue of slots. Legislators on both sides of the question insist
that their position is the right one for Maryland. However, I believe
that it is often those who are most affected by a policy, practice,
or problem who are best qualified to change or solve it. This is
why, when HB 1361 came to the floor for a vote this session, I cosponsored
an amendment with District 13 Delegates Neil Quinter and Frank Turner.
This amendment would have allowed voters within a 3-mile radius of
any proposed slot facility location to call for a local special election
on the facility. If a majority of local citizens voted against the
facility, it would not have been permitted at that site. Unfortunately,
the House of Delegates rejected the amendment and the bill in its
final form did not provide for community voter input into the slots
decision. For this reason and others, I voted against this bill.
While it did pass the House, HB 1361 was amended by the Senate and
did not become law.
ensure that citizens will have a say in the question of slots, I
have introduced my own slots bill for three years in a row. This
session, that bill was HB 722: Video Lottery Terminals - Constitutional
Amendment Subject to Voter Approval. This legislation establishes
a two-tier process that would place the decision of whether to legalize
slots in your hands as a voter. The bill stipulates that Maryland
voters would decide this issue with a question on the general election
ballot. Then, in order for a video terminal license to be granted
to a facility in a particular county, the majority of the voters
in that county must have voted in favor of slot machines in the general
referendum. In this process, every vote would be counted twice: first
as a vote on slots in Maryland, and second as a vote on slots in
the voter’s county. Though it came closest in 2004, the bill
has never passed out of committee. Unfortunately, it received an
unfavorable report from the Ways and Means Committee this session.
Governor Ehrlich has called slots a second-term issue and plans not
to work on this problem next session. I would like to see this time-,
money- and energy-consuming question answered once and for all. For
this reason, I plan to reintroduce the "slots referendum" next
year. Perhaps the fourth time will be the charm, and you will see
the slots question on your ballot next fall.
Final Thoughts back to top
Burke, in his Speech on the Conciliation of America, reminded us: "All
government, - indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue
and every prudent act, - is founded on compromise and barter." This
quote is truly representative of the legislative process, as I have
experienced it. As I prepare for the 2006 Legislative Session, I
anticipate 90 days of hard work, aided by the lessons I have taken
from this year and my experience with the give-and-take of the legislative
process. Next year’s session will be intense. It will also
be productive for us in Annapolis, and more importantly, for you
as a Maryland citizen.
you for your continued interest in the problems I address as your
Delegate. As always, I welcome your comments and concerns about all
issues. Knowing what citizens think helps me do a better job in Annapolis.
Legislative Session Update
2004 Legislative Session Update