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.