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License fee surcharge passes Senate

April 02, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a $10 surcharge on driver's license fees to subsidize Maryland's trauma centers.

The legislation is similar to a bill that passed the House of Delegates earlier this session.

Increasing the driver's license fee from $30 to $40 would raise about $8.8 million, which would help pay trauma surgeons' costs for being on call and treating uninsured patients.

Under the Senate bill, Washington County Hospital trauma center doctors would receive up to $810,000 toward their on-call costs.

In addition to raising the driver's license fee, the committee also voted to increase the fee for state-issued identification cards from $15 to $20. That fee increase would raise about $461,000 for the state's smaller trauma centers, including the one in Washington County.

Differences between the House and Senate bills will have to be ironed out in a conference committee before the session ends April 7.

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Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said he thought the trauma center problem was fixed two years ago when the Maryland General Assembly increased the vehicle registration fee by $3 a year.

But advocates said it did not address the issue of doctor pay, which led to the closure of Washington County Hospital's trauma center for four months last summer.

The money raised by the registration fee pays for the University of Maryland Shock Trauma's capital costs.

"If we're going to continue the trauma centers as they are known, we have no choice but to do this stopgap measure," said Hafer, a member of the committee who voted for the bill.

E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, opposed the bill because he said it taxes everyone equally regardless of wealth in order to enrich doctors.

"We're talking about a subsidy here for people who make between $160,000 to $300,000 a year," Pipkin said.

Senate Finance Chairman Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, said the trauma system could collapse if the legislature fails to act.

"Some of us think it's a very real risk and we can't just sit back and let that happen," he said.

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