0
Votes

Slots Take Back Seat to New Bills

Representatives describe acrimonious, productive legislative session.

The Maryland legislature adjourned April 11, concluding a tumultuous session in which legislators took up nationally-prominent issues like domestic partnerships and stem-cell research.

Potomac legislators sponsored dozens of successful bills funding local projects and taking on statewide issues including child welfare, election law, teenage driving, identity theft and veterans’ affairs.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) called a special legislative session Dec. 28 to address what he described as a crisis surrounding skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums. The legislature passed a reform bill session capping non-economic (“pain and suffering”) payouts and toughening standards for trials while providing a stop-gap fund to subsidize doctors’ malpractice premiums by eliminating an exemption for HMOs on the statewide 2 percent insurance tax.

But Ehrlich declared the effort dead during the special session and vetoed the reform measure, saying that the HMO tax would be passed on to consumers and that insurance subsidies should come from the general fund.

The legislature overrode the veto.

“I think it set a terrible tone for the session that followed immediately thereafter,” said Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16) of the special session. “It was obvious that the only thing the Governor was doing was playing politics. He had no interest in passing anything. He just wanted to beat the drum. And when we took responsible steps he fled from them.”

Bringing slot machine gambling to Maryland, an issue that Ehrlich has pushed for three years, surfaced again, but ultimately failed because the bills passed by the House and Senate could not be reconciled. The house bill, which eked by with the exact number of votes needed to pass, would have allowed 9,500 machines while the senate version called for 15,500. Most of Potomac’s representatives voted against the measures.

Legislators said Montgomery County fared well in the 2005 session, securing more money for school construction and bond bill funding for Strathmore Hall, Bethesda’s Imagination Stage and a new replica canal boat on the C&O Canal at Great Falls Tavern.

Next year’s legislative session will be the last before the 2006 elections, which will include nearly every seat in Maryland state government.

(See related story, "State Reps Discuss Legislative Session")