Sensing that their chance to push for legal changes had arrived, Senate Republicans launched a full debate on the merits of medical malpractice reform yesterday by offering a series of amendments to a more technical bill.
"We gave senators an opportunity to vote up and down on individual measures of tort reform," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, the minority whip from Baltimore County.
Each provision offered by Republicans - from allowing insurance companies to spread out payments to victims to tighter caps on pain and suffering awards - was defeated by votes that largely followed party lines. Senate Democrats outnumber Republicans, 33-14.
GOP senators agree with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that more limits on lawsuits are needed to make sure malpractice insurance remains affordable. Last year, the Assembly created a fund to help subsidize those insurance bills, but did not give the governor all the changes he wanted.
The Senate is poised to pass a technical measure that helps implement tort reform legislation adopted by the General Assembly during a special session late last year.
Yesterday, Republicans offered a series of changes to the implementation bill, hoping to incorporate other elements of tort reform they say are needed to help fix a broken system.
By offering amendments yesterday, Republican senators in effect conceded that a more stringent tort reform bill introduced by Ehrlich was doomed to fail in a committee.
"The governor's bill will not see the light of day," Harris said.
Senators debated yesterday whether some out-of-state lawyers who advertise heavily should be prevented from collecting high fees, and whether the standards for negligence in emergency room settings should be changed in a way more favorable to doctors.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller hinted that many of the amendments were being offered to get Democrats on the record with votes that might be used against them during the next election season. "I'm going to see these votes in some newsletter somewhere," Miller said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun