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Ehrlich offers alternative to Medical Decision-Making Act

January 20, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - In a compromise move to avoid yet another veto override in this year's General Assembly, Gov. Robert Ehrlich included in his legislative package a bill to let individuals record their end-of-life wishes on a registry at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Ehrlich last year vetoed the Medical Decision-Making Act of 2005, which allowed "life partners" of either gender to join a state registry that delegates medical decision-making to the partner rather than to immediate family members.

The measure drew emotional debate in the General Assembly, with proponents recounting the plight of gay couples denied access to each other in hospitals. The Senate was scheduled to consider an override of Ehrlich's veto on Thursday, but did not take action because of Ehrlich's Advance Directive Initiative.

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Ehrlich's bill would create the Advance Directive Registry, accessible by health-care providers to let them know that an individual has given advance instructions for end-of-life issues.

It includes an electronic database accessible through the Internet, and telephone and in-person support services 24 hours a day.

Registration would be voluntary, and notes on driver's licenses or identification cards would show that an advance directive had been registered.

It is one of a number of legislative goals Ehrlich's office announced Thursday. Others include:

· Creation of a Nurse Support Program Assistance Fund to increase the number of bedside nurses in Maryland hospitals.

· Providing tax relief for caregivers who care for spouses or dependents requiring long-term care.

· Strengthening witness intimidation measures approved last year by allowing the so-called "hearsay exception" for certain crimes, which allows witnesses subject to intimidation to make statements outside of court that would be admissible as evidence.

· Restricting access to electronic court records that identify witnesses and victims.

· Suspending driver's licenses of anyone younger than 21 convicted of an alcohol or drugged driving offense for three years or until the driver turns 21.

· Creating a task force to study gubernatorial succession in Maryland.

· Exempting military retirement income from state taxation for veterans with 20 years of active duty.

· Exempting military organizations from sales and use taxes.

· Increasing the research and development tax credit.

· Modernizing the state's estate tax to tie it closer to the federal estate tax.

· Expanding the Solar Energy Grant Program.

· Overhauling the Homeowners Tax Credit legislation by increasing the qualifying assessment limit from $150,000 to $300,000.

· Initiating a home energy efficiency program granting tax credits for homeowners with qualifying heating and cooling systems.

· Adding $6 million in new operating funds for the Biotechnology Tax Credit

· Eliminating restrictions on how much credit may be awarded to any jurisdiction through the Maryland Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program.

"The conventional wisdom was that the governor's not gonna have a lot of policy proposals in an election year," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. "I think the governor should be applauded for a comprehensive, policy-oriented approach."

But he added that "there's clearly a lot of heavy lifting involved in getting this passed."

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