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Issues the county faces in '07 General Assembly

November 14, 2006

On Sunday, The Herald-Mail printed Tamela Baker's interviews with members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Members of the predominantly Republican group - only John Donoghue is a Democrat - agreed that it will be tougher to get things done under Martin O'Malley than it has been under Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Though it might be tougher to make headway, the delegation will be faced with a number of issues that it cannot fail to act on. They include:

Medical malpractice law reform. Democrat leaders tossed physicians a small bone when they passed a law providing some money to reduce malpractice insurance bills by taxing health-maintenance organizations.

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It's not enough. Doctors are still being forced to practice defensive medicine and are avoiding doing some surgical procedures on juveniles to reduce their exposure to lawsuits.

That's not to say that there could not be some improvement in patient-safety procedures, but this is unlikely to happen in the highly adversarial system Maryland has now.

The rural counties need to take the lead on this because if they don't, specialists will gravitate toward large hospitals - with deeper pockets - in metropolitan areas. Procedures that should take place in Washington County will instead be done in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

New funding for correctional facilities, including a central booking center. The latter has been talked about for far too long, even though it would put police back on the streets much more quickly after an arrest.

Then there is the state prison complex south of Hagerstown. There have to be enough officers on duty to keep the institutions safe, which will likely mean raising their pay.

And for all the scorn heaped on Project RESTART, the O'Malley administration cannot abandon efforts to improve rehabilitation, so that those coming out of the prisons have work skills and a new attitude.

And, while we're on the subject of prisons, the delegation needs to sit down with parole officials and decide how to encourage ex-offenders to return to the jurisdictions where they were convicted.

Once inmates have completed their full sentences, they have "mandatory release" status, which makes it constitutionally questionable whether they could be forced to return to the place where they were convicted.

If, however, they are paroled prior to the completion of their sentences, a condition of that parole could be reporting twice a week to the parole office in the jurisdiction where they were convicted.

If the prison system can do more in the way of rehabilitation and skill-building, the early releases of those who have proved they're ready for them should keep more ex-offenders from making the Hagerstown area their new home.

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