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Saturday Mailbox

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Working to make flood insurance aid Marylanders

The debate in the news media about whether the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) now has, or ever had, jurisdiction over the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has blurred the facts. And I would like to set the record straight about what the MIA has been doing since Sept. 15 ("Senate panel accepts Redmer nomination," Feb. 10).

As was determined following Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the state cannot compel any action by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The NFIP is a federal program not subject to state regulation. We cannot oversee its claims-handling or payment decisions. A lack of jurisdiction, however, did not mean there was a lack of action by the administration.

When I saw the horrific damage caused by unprecedented flooding along the shores of the bay during Tropical Storm Isabel, I knew that we needed better understanding of the NFIP -- thoroughly and quickly. I called staff into the office on Sept. 28 for training by an NFIP official to ensure that each person from the insurance administration in the 15 Disaster Recovery Centers around the state understood the flood insurance program. In addition, we worked closely with the NFIP and the insurance companies who wrote NFIP policies to advocate for Maryland citizens.

Our intervention resulted in more timely investigations, additional site visits and the re-evaluation of claims.

To date, the insurance administration has:

Taken complaints about the NFIP and tried to work with the policy-holders and the NFIP to settle the problems.

Interceded with insurance companies to try to get them to be more responsive to NFIP policy-holders.

Talked to NFIP officials about the concerns we have about the way they are handling claims.

Participated in a briefing for staff of the Maryland congressional delegation on the NFIP to try to get help from Washington for storm victims.

Worked with the NFIP on five training sessions held in November for Maryland agents who sell flood policies.

Since Sept. 15, more than 50 members of the staff of the Maryland Insurance Administration, nearly 20 percent of our staff, have worked tirelessly to help the victims of this terrible storm. To suggest anything less is unfair and untrue.

Alfred W. Redmer Jr.

Baltimore

The writer is commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration.

Ehrlich team botches the slots issue, again

Watching Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s leadership on slots, which he claims is the linchpin of Maryland's fiscal health, leaves this impression: The governor may have been a football star, but clearly he was not a quarterback because he does not know how to move the ball down the field.

Having been bested by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a former football coach who knows how to execute a play or two, you'd think the Ehrlich team would have used the "off season" to do its homework.

Instead, team Ehrlich opened this year with a plan that in addition to calling for a massive infusion of 11,500 slot machines at the racetracks reaches for 4,000 more machines in places to be named later ("Analysts say new slot proposal may net $500 million for state," Jan. 29).

The administration's latest fumble was allowing the governor's fund raiser -- who is also a prominent Ehrlich appointee -- to solicit money from track owners for a lobbying campaign for the governor's plan ("Ehrlich appointee criticized for pro-slots role," Feb. 7).

The state's budget is not a game -- nor is the prospect of opening the door to an industry that undeniably would cause increased crime, suicides, embezzlement, gambling addictions and traffic.

Before we decide whether the large revenue increase the state would gain from slot machines is worth those ills, Maryland citizens deserve leadership that we can have confidence is prepared to tackle this radical policy change.

Sandra Benson Brantley

Baltimore

More gambling adds to risky temptations

If gambling becomes widely accepted and accessible, a get-rich-quick mentality will replace the work ethic in future generations.

I've seen it firsthand. My ex-husband was a compulsive gambler who easily lost $10,000 (that I know of) during our marriage. We could not afford that level of "entertainment."

After our divorce, he did not keep up with his child support payments, so the government repeatedly had to intervene with enforcement actions at taxpayer expense. These included driver's license suspension and tax refund intercepts. For more than 12 months, his unemployment compensation was intercepted to pay for child support.

The social and governmental costs of gambling are too high. We should not throw temptation in anyone's path.

Why help rich racetrack owners get richer at all our expense?

Dorothy Paugh

Baltimore

Staffing woes impair juvenile justice in Md.

As a former superintendent of the Cheltenham Youth Facility and area director of probation in Baltimore, I have been reading with great concern and sadness the recent articles related to the system I spent 24 years working with.

The state has a lot of dedicated individuals who literally give their lives to our young people everyday. And the editorial "Getting what you pay for" (Feb. 6) probably struck a nerve with many of them.

As Cheltenham's superintendent nearly 10 years ago, I struggled with a very serious and unstable staffing situation. Nearly half of my staff were part-time employees hired to fill the void of permanent staff shortages and relieve the cost of overtime payments to permanent staff.

It was not an easy situation and it literally changed my entire life at that time. I moved and lived on campus to provide the highest level of supervision and accountability, getting up in the middle of the night to check shifts and check on the children. Still, it was not enough, as I soon knew that we were only as good as our weakest staff.

I could say much more but I will stop here and ask our legislators and administration to give full support to Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. for well-trained, adequately paid staff.

That would do more than you know to turn this system around.

Moses McAllister Jr.

Baltimore

No empathy for those who spend too much

Every few years we see another story about the rise of personal bankruptcies and the sob stories of those facing that option ("Rising debt draws millions to refuge of bankruptcy," Feb. 8). Yet personal bankruptcy is often, although not always, the result of failures of personal responsibility.

And I found it hard to empathize with people who wish to take advantage of the bankruptcy laws and shirk their financial responsibilities. A woman with a $30,000 job has two cars and a pontoon boat? A man who had a job that paid nearly $100,000 for years managed to save just $30,000, spending the rest on expensive cars and vacations?

I was rather annoyed with, and not the least bit sympathetic to, those who racked up huge credit card debts because they found it "hard in today's society to truly live within your means."

What about those of us who are financially responsible and live within our means? Is there some law to reward us?

Being financially responsible means taking into consideration that the high times might not last forever. It should not be up to the taxpayers or businesses to take losses to feed the voracious spending appetites of the fiscally irresponsible.

Laws should not act as a safety net for those who want more than they can afford.

Mark Hotz

Pikesville

Tax cuts take time to produce new jobs

The tax rant "Taxes and the beast" (editorial, Feb. 4) oversimplifies budget issues by presenting a scenario of tax cuts vs. cuts in domestic programs. In doing so, it proffers several fallacious lines of reasoning.

Fundamental econometrics (as well as common sense) indicates that the increase in jobs will not occur contemporaneously with the tax cuts, but will be delayed as the impact of the cuts works its way through the economy. To expect jobs immediately is akin to an athlete expecting enhanced performance during the first week of a new exercise regimen.

And the claim that the president's budget is starving domestic programs is factually inaccurate. During the Bush administration, federal discretionary spending has risen 8.2 percent, which is the highest rate of expansion for any president in the last 50 years.

If any legitimate criticism is to be made of this administration's handling of the economy, it would be that the pace of spending increases is too high.

Indeed, many government programs are choking on inefficiency and bureaucracy borne of government largesse. In cases where budgets have risen without measurable increases in positive outcomes, there is, by definition, excess. Why pay more unless we get more?

Yet the concept of cutting excess apparently does not exist in the lexicon of the big-government partisans.

Finally, it is ironic that the editorial castigates President Bush for reducing the percentage of income tax revenues as a percentage of the economy to the lowest level since World War II.

The administration should be proud of this fact, and use it in the fall election campaign.

Bruce W. Didier

Potomac

Growing population causes traffic woes

I don't doubt that traffic expert Anthony Downs is right to say, "Traffic congestion is here to stay, and there's nothing you can do to get rid of it" ("Children can expect to inherit crowded roads," Feb. 4). That is, he's right given his assumption of ever-increasing population. But there's nothing inevitable about population growth. It's a given only if we're silly enough to allow it.

We could stop growth by a combination of obvious measures that would benefit us in other ways as well. For example, we could increase federal and state funding to offer family planning to all who want it. We could promote awareness of emergency contraceptive pills and permit their sale without prescription.

Instead, we choose to promote population growth. We do it nationally by importing cheap workers to exploit. We do it locally with subsidies to lure businesses to move here and massive subsidies of new housing by existing taxpayers, who pay most of the cost of the new libraries, fire stations and schools new residents require.

Traffic congestion is indeed here to stay, if we insist on it.

Cliff Terry

Baltimore

Hunting isn't needed to control our bears

The Sun quotes Department of Natural Resources officials, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and hunters about the science that supposedly supports the proposed hunt of Maryland's black bears ("DNR plans for fall bear hunt released," Feb. 5).

In fact, the DNR has not offered any scientific evidence that a sporting hunt would resolve human-bear conflicts. There is no reason to believe that sport hunters could identify or target "nuisance bears."

Black bear populations are limited by the availability of natural foods; they are not well-adapted to heavy predation pressure and do not need to be hunted as a means to control their population.

Human-bear conflicts arise when individual bears become habituated to human food sources. While the bear population in Maryland has increased over the past few decades, the human population has increased as well. This, in addition to habitat degradation and fluctuation in natural food sources, can affect the rate of human-bear conflicts, which can be largely prevented by taking common-sense steps to reduce access to garbage.

The DNR also already has the authority to euthanize individual problem bears that cannot be deterred by other means.

Finally, other states that already allow bear hunting continue to experience human-bear conflicts.

Maryland has a long history of protecting the black bear. It's a shame to see the Ehrlich administration bowing to the wishes of a few hunters.

Bette Stallman

Washington

The writer is a wildlife scientist for the Humane Society of the United States.

Affair wasn't reason Clinton got in trouble

Again, the record must be set straight.

President Bill Clinton was not impeached "for lying to the American people about a sexual escapade," as the writer of the letter "Why don't we hear impeachment talk?" (Feb. 3) suggests. Articles of impeachment were brought against Mr. Clinton by the House of Representatives for lying under oath, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate voted to acquit Mr. Clinton of the charges.

However, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas issued an order where she found that the president did give "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process." She also declared that "the president deliberately ... undermined the integrity of the judicial system."

That's a far cry from just lying about a sexual escapade.

And for this he was eventually fined almost $100,000, stripped of his license to practice law in the state of Arkansas for five years and forbidden to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawrence J. Klos

Baltimore

Why the legislature oversees medicine

As the leadership of the Health and Government Operations Committee, which oversees the licensing and practice of medical professions in the House of Delegates, we feel the need to respond to The Sun's editorial "The mote in thine eye" (Feb. 2).

One of the most important functions of our state government is to preserve the quality and integrity of medical procedures performed in our state, and we as legislators take this duty very seriously. Our primary responsibility as legislators is to make sure our constituents have confidence in the medical professions in our state and to ensure Marylanders have adequate access to critical health care services.

As the editorial correctly points out, "turf battles" among medical professions frequently involve complicated policy questions. As legislators making these policy decisions, we try to strike a balance between the arguments advanced by competing professions to provide sound public policy for our constituents.

But contrary to the inferences in the editorial, we do not don "referee" jerseys each session to facilitate lobbying fees and future campaign contributions. And the legislature does rely on the wisdom of objective, independent scientific opinion whenever possible.

But even relying on independent experts can present problems. For example, even though the Maryland Health Care Commission, an independent regulatory agency created by the legislature, oversees our state's process of allowing certain hospitals to perform open heart surgery, the General Assembly is confronted each year with an onslaught of bills that seek to circumvent this "independent" regulatory process.

In fact, the Court of Appeals recently overturned a regulatory decision of our independent commission, and this legal decision demonstrates that there is no one perfect solution or independent regulatory panacea when overseeing complicated policy questions.

Regulation of medical professions cannot be removed from the legislative process and blithely relegated to an independent commission.

Such an approach would be naive and would reduce the ability of the legislature to voice the views of our constituents and represent all walks of life in developing sound public policy.

John A. Hurson

Annapolis

The writer is chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee of the House of Delegates. The letter was also signed by the committee's six subcommittee chairpersons.

Extending the right to marry?

I want to applaud the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for its ruling supporting same-sex marriages ("Mass. in media glare on gay-marriage issue," Feb. 11).

I believe our forefathers wrote the constitutions (state and federal) to protect everyone in America from discrimination.

Many people talk about the religious morality of same-sex marriages and the decline of marriage. But gays and lesbians don't want to change anyone's religious beliefs, they want to be treated equally by the law and given the same rights as the next person.

Others say same-sex marriage will lead to social decline. But my partner and I are very productive members of this society. We both have good jobs, own a home, pay taxes and strive to make our neighborhood, state and country a better place. We want to marry to be able to take care of each other and our family into old age or if something were to happen to one of us.

But right now we can be denied visitation rights in the hospital and we cannot get certain benefits for each other that come with marriage.

This country was founded on religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The religion and the God I believe in accepts all persons -- gay, straight, black or white -- so why should I be persecuted, denied rights and made to feel like a second-class citizen?

Tony Viglione

Baltimore

Many people claim that marriage is a sacred union between persons of the opposite sex, and President Bush is one such person.

However, the word sacred has direct religious implications, and to deny a portion of the population their rights as U.S. citizens based on a religious argument is a violation of the First Amendment.

Others point out that marriage should be solely between men and women because of long-standing tradition. But tradition is not a valid reason to hold on to these beliefs. Throughout history, slavery, incest and cannibalism have all held the title of tradition.

Still others claim that homosexual couples are more likely to raise a homosexual child then heterosexual couples. But so far there has been no empirical proof of this claim. And this argument is not only unsubstantiated, but also implies homosexuality is wrong, without explaining why it is wrong.

To deny gays the right to marry for any of these reasons is to act solely out of personal prejudice against those who are different.

I applaud the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for the wisdom and foresight it has shown, and can only hope that the rest of the country will follow suit.

Patrick Depew

Joppa

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has stated that the issue of same-sex marriage is too important to leave to a one-vote majority of the state's high court, and that the people should not be excluded from so fundamental a decision.

This is not the first time the people have been excluded from fundamental decisions, but it should be the last straw.

Indeed, so many vital issues have been decided by one- or two-vote court majorities that younger generations do not know the meaning of government by the people.

It is the courts, not the people, that have created abortion rights, banned God from school and public life, supported computer-generated child pornography (and called it "free speech") and now rule like royalty in support of racism (affirmative action) and sodomy (right to privacy).

The courts have promoted the feminist agenda, shifted political power to journalists and labor unions and made the prosecution of criminals so difficult that plea bargains devoid of all justice are the procedure of choice.

Decisions that are the sole responsibility of representatives elected by the people are being quietly made by unelected judges over whom there is no control.

Consequently, government by the people has been slowly and quietly canceled. What remains is a judicial dictatorship with democratic pretensions.

The Founding Fathers did not share law-making power with the judiciary, and the American people have never consented to such an arrangement.

The state has a huge stake in the strength and health of the family, the basic unit of civilization.

The people must demand that their elected representatives protect and defend marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman.

Elizabeth Ward Nottrodt

Baltimore

Surely, one of the insights this entire gay-marriage controversy should give us all is that there are huge economic and social benefits legally bestowed upon married couples. But why should any of these benefits be tied to marriage?

For example, why should I be entitled to health insurance simply because my spouse has a policy that extends to family members, and yet someone with a different sexual orientation cannot give that benefit to his or her companion because they cannot legally form a partnership?

There is much more at stake here than "moral" issues.

Those who wish to assert that they are morally superior because of their sexual orientation may certainly continue to feel this way, whether or not gay couples can be married. But such a sense of moral superiority is not a very good foundation to deny others equal treatment under the law.

Denying the privilege of marrying on the basis of sexual preference and anatomy is no different from denying women the right to vote.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

Towson

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