Bill would require physical education through 5th grade
A Senate committee started work yesterday on a bill that would eventually require all Maryland children through fifth grade to have 2 1/2 hours a week of physical education.
A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House of Delegates.
Maryland officials, like those in other states, are alarmed about rising obesity rates among children - but they're not sure how to fix the problem or what schools can do to slim their students.
"Overweight children are becoming the norm rather than the exception," said Jill Snyder, mother of two elementary school-age students in Baltimore County, who testified in favor the bill.
Snyder said her children have only one physical education class per week. "We're losing healthy, happy, fit, stress-relieved children," she said.
While there was little disagreement that childhood obesity is a problem, some school officials argued that schools shouldn't be charged with fixing it.
A state analysis of the bill showed it could cost local school districts nearly $48 million a year by 2012. Not all schools have a gymnasium or full-time physical education teacher, lawmakers were told.
"School systems will have to have additional personnel, additional time and in some cases additional space" to follow the bill, said Jim Lupis, director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.
Health insurance reform
The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on several health-care bills yesterday, including one that would create a system of universal coverage for all residents, as the General Assembly works to craft legislation aimed at reducing the ranks of the state's 780,000 uninsured.
The universal proposal calls for most public health programs to be abolished and replaced by a state-run plan, which could result in "significant expenditures," according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.
"It would be one large, self-insured state," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and sponsor of the bill. "If we want to cover these people ... we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture."
Other pending legislation includes an expansion of Medicaid, tax incentives for employers to provide wellness programs and subsidies for small businesses to offer their employees health insurance.
Pharmacy school expands
In response to a critical shortage of pharmacists in Maryland, the state's only pharmacy school will expand its Baltimore-based program to Montgomery County, officials said yesterday.
About 40 students will begin their pharmacy studies this fall at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, taking the same courses as the students attending the pharmacy school at the downtown University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Eventually, 160 pharmacy students will be enrolled at the Rockville campus, which is used as a satellite location by many of the University System of Maryland's 11 institutions.
According to a study conducted by David A. Knapp, dean of the pharmacy school, an aging U.S. population increasingly reliant on medication will need 417,000 pharmacists by 2020 but have only 260,000. "Maryland ranks right up there in the top 10 states as far as the level of demand," Knapp said.
The expansion into Montgomery County is part of the university's hope to double the size of the pharmacy school within 10 years. But to do that, officials said, they will need a new pharmacy building on the Baltimore campus.
'Green' building bill
Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration has softened its opposition to bills that would require state government and local school systems to construct more environmentally friendly buildings, saying it will not wait for a study before deciding whether to back the proposed standards.
Hundreds of buildings designed to use less energy, conserve water or accomplish other ecologically friendly goals have been constructed in other states, administration officials acknowledged, so waiting for data from a study of three Maryland projects is unnecessary.
That means a change of policy could come within months, not years, a reversal from the administration's testimony about similar bills last week.
Data provided by advocates "does suggest there are some significant operating savings that can be had" by constructing energy efficient buildings, said Chadfield B. Clapsaddle, an administration budget official, said at a hearing on the bills Tuesday.
Lawmakers in the House of Delegates and state Senate are working to require the state to construct buildings with environmentally friendly characteristics and to require that school construction projects give a price preference to such building designs.
So-called "green" buildings now cost only slightly more than traditional designs and can offer significant long-term savings, not to mention environmental benefits, said Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bills.
O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor met this week with Bronrott and the co-sponsor, Del. Dan K. Morhaim of Baltimore County, and is "committed to working with the delegates to try to find a way to move forward as quickly as possible" on green building legislation.
Andrew A. Green