Doctors and nurses could find themselves paying the bill for tighter regulation of them under a measure moving through the Maryland General Assembly.
The proposal would give the state licensing boards that regulate doctors and nurses more freedom to spend the money they raise through licensing fees.
The boards are eager for the bill, saying they don't have enough money to do their job of licensing and regulating health professionals.
"Right now, they feel that they don't have adequate resources to do the job," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who introduced the bill on behalf of the State Board of Physician Quality Assurance.
The Senate gave the bill tentative approval yesterday and is expected to give it final approval tomorrow. It would then go to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Dr. Israel H. Weiner, the chairman of the physician board, requested the bill, saying the panel has not had enough money to police the state's 22,500 doctors.
Although the bill as introduced covered only the physicians board, the state nursing board quickly asked to be included.
Under the bill, 80 percent of the fees collected by the physician board or the nursing board would be set aside to be used only by the two boards. The other 20 percent would go to the state's general fund. Under current law, 100 percent of the fees -- which are established by the boards -- go to the general fund, and the governor and legislature set the two boards' actual budgets.
The physician board would like to increase its budget from about $3 million to about $4 million, which would mean increasing the annual licensing fee for doctors from $100 to $175.
Nurses would also see an increase in their annual licensing fee, which now stands at $12, said Donna Dorsey, executive director of the state Board of Nursing.
The physician board has been hampered by a huge backlog of cases, and Weiner and other officials have complained that they need more staff and better computers. A recent mini-audit by the legislature's fiscal analysts criticized the board's performance.
The Schaefer administration initially opposed the bill but eventually agreed to an amended version that gives the boards somewhat less autonomy.
Legislators have generally been reluctant to dedicate state revenue to specific agencies because such changes reduce the limited control legislators have over the state budget.
"I know this is not an ideal way of budgeting," Miller said. "However, I feel that a special exception is needed because this is the public health. I feel there is a drastic need."