Governor signs final bundle of bills

The Baltimore Sun

At his final bill signing ceremony, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed legislation yesterday to provide prescription-drug subsidies for seniors, give workers more flexibility with sick leave, and bring transparency to what is expected to be a well-funded fight over November's slot-machine referendum.

The governor also signed several bills aimed at benefiting veterans, including a measure intended to help veterans obtain mental health services. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, an Army Reserve officer who did a tour in Iraq, took the lead on veterans-related bills and said yesterday that the new laws "provide a seamless transition for veterans from combat back into the community."

The General Assembly approved 745 bills, and O'Malley signed scores of them at signing ceremonies over the past six weeks.

Bills he has not signed still go into effect; the Democratic governor vetoed only one bill this year.

Among the public health measures was a bill that authorizes a subsidy funded by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield for seniors stuck in a coverage gap in Medicare's prescription drug plan. Other legislation expands immunity from liability for people who use automated external defibrillators, and creates a hospital authority to find a new owner for the troubled Prince George's Hospital Center while requiring the county and the state to negotiate the amount of public funding they will commit.

Proponents of the defibrillator bill said that while the devices are in many public places, liability concerns have prevented them from being installed more widely. Rita and Richard Helgeson, a Silver Spring couple whose 18-year-old son died of cardiac arrhythmia at home several years ago, attended the ceremony in Annapolis yesterday.

"If we had an AED, he would be here today," Rita Helgeson said.

The veterans bills included measures to give veteran-owned small businesses a competitive advantage in the state procurement system, extend the deadline for awarding scholarships for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to 2016, and allow a spouse who is required to relocate because of a soldier's mandatory transfer to qualify for unemployment benefits.

O'Malley also signed a bill that lets workers use leave to care for a parent, child or spouse, exempting businesses with few employees, and a bill requiring campaign finance reports from people who spend more than $10,000 for campaign materials regarding the referendum on whether to legalize slot-machine gambling.

Legislative leaders described this year's session as one of unprecedented cooperation - both chambers are dominated by Democrats - while Republicans said the collaboration was less about unity in the party and more about politics. Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader, said both parties have their eyes on the 2010 election.

"The legislature is doing their best to weed out bills the governor wouldn't want on his desk," said Brinkley, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties "They want to make him look good."

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