ANNAPOLIS — Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, was one of two senators to vote against a bill strengthening the state's open meetings law for public bodies.
The bill passed the Senate, 45-2, and is now headed to the House.
Haines also voted against the bill in the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, as did Sen. American Joe Miedusiweski, D-Baltimore City, the other dissenter on the floor vote.
The bill would eliminate a provision of current law that allows public bodies to close meetings to the public and the press for a "compelling reason," so long as at least two-thirds of the body approves. Media organizations contend that the provision is abused, allowing government to conduct business in private for almost any reason.
It also would create a three-member Open Meetings Compliance Board to arbitrate disputes and would establish a $100 civil fine if a member of a public body participated "knowingly and willfully" in a meeting that violated the open meetings law.
Haines said he opposes the bill because it would compel zoning appeals boards to open their post-hearing deliberations to the public. He said he believes opening those meetings would not benefit the public and would "severely restrict the committee'sfreedom to discuss the credibility and personalities of the witnesses."
Haines served on the Westminster Board of Zoning Appeals for about six years.
However, he said he does support the revision which would disallow public bodies to close meetings with a two-thirds majority vote.
BILL GOES TO STUDY
ANNAPOLIS -- The House Economic Matters Committee referred for study during the interim a program proposed by Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, that would allow seniors to receive state medical assistance without having to sell off their assets, and ideally save the state money.
Elliott's proposal would allow middle-income seniors who have a state-approved long-term nursing care insurance policy to participate in the program. They would receive medical assistance from the state once the benefits from their insurance policies were exhausted.
Currently, seniors must sell homes and other property, or "spend down," to qualify for Medicaid, the shared federal and state health assistance for the poor. Many midincome seniors can't afford the cost of nursing homes withoutgovernment assistance.
Elliott, who introduced the bill as an unrefined general concept, said it is a positive sign that the committeeintends to study the idea.
"They felt it was a worthwhile idea, and that's what I wanted," he said. "It's rather complex. There's a lot to work out. It's going to take people with expertise to do it. Youjust can't do it in a bill."
CCGH DONATION OK'ED
ANNAPOLIS -- A bill authorizing the County Commissioners to contribute $1 million over five years to Carroll County General Hospital to help finance its improvements program has passed the House and Senate.
The bill allows the commissioners to begin making the contributions in fiscal 1993, which begins July 1, 1992.
The private, non-profit hospital has embarked on a $14 million capital program to upgrade technology, add new services and expand others to stay competitive in the industry.
To generate the revenue, the current property tax rate of $2.35 per$100 of assessed value would have to be increased by just less than 1 cent.
SENATORS VOTE ON TAXES
ANNAPOLIS -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, voted against a Senate plan that would raise about $70 million in taxes to balance next year's budget, while Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, voted for it.
The Senate voted, 31-16, Thursday to expand the state's 5 percent sales tax to cigarettes, increase the excise tax on cigarettes and eliminatetax exemptions for certain food sales.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee developed a plan that made about $70 million in state aid to counties for education contingent upon the tax proposal passing.
Smelser is one of the committee members who believes that counties should not use state assistance to increase teachers' salaries next year.
'HATE CRIME' VOTE
ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll's four delegates -- Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, and Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore -- all voted against a bill that would require state police to collect and analyze information on "hate crimes" committed againstgays and lesbians.
Maryland law currently requires police to analyze data on incidents directed against racial, religious or ethnic groups.
The bill initially failed by one vote, but later was reconsidered and passed the House, 78-50.