March 22, 2005
SLOTS MAY BE on life support for the third straight legislative session since the election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., but that isn't preventing some lobbyists and lawmakers from trying to concoct a formula for passage.
The latest idea making the rounds is a complicated deal to link some form of medical malpractice reform with a slots package. The thinking is that House Speaker Michael E. Busch would get something he could support (stronger tort reform), while Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would get his wish (slots).
The package plan was being pushed by some medical interests, who are hoping the Assembly passes legislation that would allow hospitals to pay out malpractice jury awards over time, as well as tougher standards for suing emergency room doctors.
Ehrlich has said that the medical malpractice legislation passed by lawmakers during a special session late last year is inadequate.
The key to a deal would be the Prince George's County House delegation. Those lawmakers presumably want to see cash-strapped Prince George's Hospital Center stay in business. Tort reform would help.
Prince George's lawmakers voted en masse against slots; but if their hospital were getting money, perhaps they would switch, the argument goes.
In fact, supporters say, a slots bill could spin off enough money to build a new hospital in Prince George's.
Annapolis insiders, however, said the deal may be too complex to win approval.
New Jersey and California are contributing huge sums to the field, and supporters say that Maryland must do its part to keep its prominence in biotechnology.
Backers of the legislation are trying to muster the 29 votes needed to end a filibuster in the Senate. To help their cause, they have enlisted Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely candidate for governor, who chastised Ehrlich for not supporting the legislation.
Duncan noted during a news conference yesterday that Maryland dropped from third to fourth in the number of biotechnology businesses, according to Ernst and Young, and said that the trade journal Small Times "listed Maryland as the eighth-hottest state for nanotechnology, when two years ago we were ranked No. 6."
"The Ehrlich administration is sitting on the sidelines during the debate over stem cell research," Duncan said.
Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman, said the governor would decide on the issue if and when it reaches his desk.
But he said he has spoken with the governor about his demands and expects an amicable solution before the end of the legislative session.
The Executive Nominations Committee held hearings on a new batch of appointees last night but adjourned without taking a vote on them. The committee failed to act despite heated debate from Republican senators who said it was despicable that Miller would refuse to act on Ehrlich's nominees, most of whom are volunteers and nonpolitical.
After the meeting, an apparently upset Miller pulled aside Ehrlich Appointments Secretary Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. for what Hogan called an unprintable tongue-lashing. Miller said later that he wants Democrats to be able to select the two nominees for their party's slots on the state elections board but that Hogan, not the governor, is standing in the way.
"People in his capacity are generally supposed to be seen and not heard, but he likes to read his comments in the media, and they're generally negative about Democrats," Miller said. "He's a big part of the problem."
Hogan said he and Ehrlich had a deal with Miller to resolve the situation but Miller reneged.
"It's Ayatollah Miller holding 184 people hostage," Hogan said. "They ought to have Ted Koppel on TV every night giving updates on the hostages' condition."
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