Calling it the "death knell" for Maryland small business, Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, opposed the proposal submitted by a gubernatorial panel to make small businesses provide health insurance for their employees or pay a tax into a fund.
The difference between this proposal and various "no-frills" health insurance proposals being considered by the General Assembly is that this proposal is mandatory and the others are optional, he said.
The proposal, recommended by the Governor's Commission on Health Care Policy and Financing, "grabs small business by the throat and says buy insurance or pay a tax. Either way, you're going to pay," he said.
The commission's proposal applies to businesses that hire between two and 50 employees. It also applies to part-time employees whohave worked at least 20 hours a week for four months. The other no-frills proposals being considered are limited to businesses employing one to 25 full-time employees.
The commission's proposal includes coverage of several mandated benefits, such as at least seven outpatient visits for diagnosis and treatment of acute mental health conditions.It will not cover employees' dependents and will require the business to pay 75 percent of the premium, with employees paying 25 percent.
The plan,to undergo study,is to take effect in 1996.
"It isnot too soon to voice a loud, firm and absolute objection to saddling Maryland's small businesses with the responsibility of paying the tab for the state's 570,000 people who have no health insurance," he said.
Matthews said he is not opposed to allowing small businesses to offer limited benefit insurance plans to their employees, if an owner chooses to do so.
PROPOSAL NEEDS MONEY
ANNAPOLIS -- Peter B. McDowell, Carroll's director of secondary schools, told a Senate committee that it was "imperative" that state dollars accompany a proposalto raise the compulsory school attendance age to 18 years or older for the 1993-1994 school year.
Testifying before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, McDowell, a former WestminsterHigh School principal, said that the proposal would introduce 200 additional students to Carroll schools and cost the system between $210,000 and $350,000 more a year.
"It's a great idea," McDowell said."But if we're going to bring 200 more students in Carroll schools --students who are unsuccessful or they wouldn't have dropped out in the first place -- we need to do some things differently and provide some alternative programs."
More students, he said, mean additionalstaff and counseling services to support and help them through the system. Typically, these students need individual attention, which means smaller class sizes, he said.
Carroll officials have estimated the system would need to hire eight teachers to maintain an average classroom size of 25 students per teacher or 13 teachers to provide more individual attention.
The cost of implementing the plan statewide has been estimated at $50 million to $64 million, said McDowell, who was the only public school official to testify during the afternoon hearing.
"Should funding not accompany Senate Bill 261, the Board of Education of Carroll County recommends that it not be enacted," McDowell said.
McDowell said committee members were generally supportive of the bill and asked a lot of questions about how the variousstate efforts to improve education were working in Carroll.
The proposal to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 years old to 18 is part of State Schools Superintendent Joseph Shilling's efforts to improve schools statewide.
McDowell said he thought raising the compulsory age could be accomplish more successfully if it was implemented over a period of time -- perhaps first raising it to 17 and then 18 the following year.
"Having been a principal and worked with kids for 20 years, many students have a mind set to quit when they're16," McDowell said. "They get that mind set when they're not successful in middle school and in ninth grade. They see age 16 as a light at the end of the tunnel.
He also noted that students drop out of high school for a variety of reasons, ranging from disinterest to pregnancy. Not every student who drops out is necessarily a behavioral problem, he said.
Carroll has a dropout rate of 3.1 percent. Maryland's dropout rate is about 5 percent. The national rate is about 25 percent.
HAINES AGAINST MEETING BILL
ANNAPOLIS -- A bill to strengthen what has been called one of the weakest open meetings laws in the country won 9-2 approval from the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee Committee Friday.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, voted against the bill, questioning whether members of governing bodies would be willing to discuss the credibility of witnesses and personalities during public deliberations.
"This might force these members to hold these discussion in private before the vote," he said.
The bill would establish a review board to resolve disputes about when a meeting can be closed. Violators could be fined up to $100 under the bill, which goes to the Senate floor this week.
Lobbyists for county and municipal governments oppose many of the changes made by the bill, which also would no longer allow governing bodies to go into closed session if two-thirds of the members vote to do so. The new bill also would allow closed meetings only to obtain advice on a legal matter, not just to talk to a lawyer, as the current law permits.
The most significant of the amendments would require governing bodies to meet in public to consider granting a license, permit, special exception, or decide on a land-use matter. Governing bodies could, however, meet in closed session to discuss land acquisition in order to keep bids private.
ABUSE MEASURE PASSES
ANNAPOLIS -- The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed Thursday a bill introduced by Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, that wouldrequire local social services departments to expunge reports of suspected child abuse if the subjects are cleared by "clear and convincing evidence" of any wrongdoing.
The bill was strongly supported at a hearing Tuesday by two Westminster residents -- Elliott Burgher andDavid Hodge -- who say they have been victims of a social services system that has kept their names on record for suspicion of abuse, even though they have been informed that further investigation is not warranted. They say maintaining their names on file has harmed their reputations.
State Department of Human Resources policy requires that records of abuse investigations be kept in a computer data base forfive years, regardless of the findings. DHR says the records are kept so patterns can be detected if future reports to social services agencies name the same suspects. The cases are classified as either "indicated" or "unsubstantiated."
Elliott's bill would require the agency to reinstate a "ruled out" category that was eliminated several years ago. For cases that are "ruled out," the agency would be required to expunge the report within 120 days after the date of the referral, so long as no further reports of abuse or neglect are received during that period.
The committee included an amendment suggested byDHR that would allow the agency to keep on file a "closing document," stating that an investigation had been performed and reviewed, as required by law, upon receiving a report of suspected abuse. The bill now goes to the House floor.
The committee killed, 20-1, a relatedbill, also sponsored by Elliott, that would have required social services departments to maintain a central registry of cases involving cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. The registry would have allowed suspected abusers to appeal their cases to a hearings board in an attempt to remove their names from the list. The bill carried a $1.1 million price tag for fiscal 1992 and was opposed by DHR.