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Delegation reflects on good, bad and ugly

April 12, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - As the final moments ticked away Monday in this year's General Assembly, lawmakers began tallying up their win and loss columns, panicking over stalled bills and, like Cinderella, maneuvering to get as much accomplished as they could before the clock struck midnight.

And while local bills fared well this year, the mostly Republican members of the Washington County Delegation expressed disappointment that major issues such as legalization of slot machines and additional reforms to the state's medical malpractice laws went nowhere.

Democrat John Donoghue, whose district includes the city of Hagerstown, had an upbeat attitude Monday morning. The sponsor of a number of statewide health care-related bills, he had reason to smile as many of them won final approval before the gavel fell for the last time.

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But Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, lamented the failure of slots and additional malpractice legislation.

"I'm disappointed that we still haven't seen slots," McKee said. "The revenue would have been beneficial to the state, whether it was for operating (revenue) or for school construction."

The lack of what he called "real tort reform" also disappointed him, a fact that was echoed by other legislators. He said the bill passed during December's special session - later vetoed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich but overridden by the General Assembly in January - "was just kind of a surface touch."

That legislation added measures for patient safety and created a stop-loss fund for doctors suffering from sticker shock over double-digit increases in their malpractice insurance premiums.

"Obviously we invested a lot of time and energy on medical malpractice," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, "but we saw no movement." The bill passed during the special session, he said, "accomplished very little."

It was exactly the outcome on medical malpractice that Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, had predicted in January, when the General Assembly convened.

He said then that the Democratic leadership in the legislature believed they had dealt with the issue sufficiently, and that nothing else would win approval.

Monday, Myers made another prediction.

"Nothing will happen until we get a change in leadership, truly interested in the well-being in the state of Maryland," he said. "We should never ever play politics with people's health and their lives."

But Myers, a staunch slots opponent, was pleased that efforts to convince lawmakers to expand gambling failed again.

"The first year we needed it to balance the budget," he said, describing the arguments for slots. "The second year, we needed it to pay the bills. This year, we needed it for school construction. I guess we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way - we'll have to earn it."

One issue that seemed to annoy local Republicans was what they saw as a "get-Ehrlich" campaign by Democrats, with several attempts to strip the governor of his powers and to block his legislative initiatives.

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