Action taken on '99 bills

Glendening to sign legislation prohibiting assisted suicides

`Rejection of Kevorkianism'

5 vetoes announced, including measure on higher PSC salaries

May 27, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will sign a bill today prohibiting assisted suicide in Maryland, despite warnings from opponents that the measure will have a "chilling effect" on pain relief for dying patients.

The governor said yesterday that he had rejected pleas to veto the measure, but announced vetoes of five other measures that passed the General Assembly this year.

Vetoed bills include one that would have given the Public Service Commission authority to raise the salaries of key staff members -- legislation the governor had tried unsuccessfully to amend to give him two additional appointments to the powerful regulatory body.

Glendening's amendment, rejected March 26 by the Senate Finance Committee, could have given the governor effective control of the PSC when it is writing the rules for restructuring the electric power industry.

The assisted suicide bill is among dozens the governor will sign today on topics ranging from education to crime victims' rights. They include bills establishing his HOPE scholarship program for prospective teachers, launching a class-size reduction program, implementing higher education reforms and offering incentives for teachers to take jobs in Maryland public schools.

Glendening had originally said he would sign the assisted suicide bill, but his decision was put in doubt after opponents launched a campaign to persuade him to veto it.

The governor released a statement yesterday saying the bill strikes a good balance between ensuring the right to die with dignity and permitting assisted suicides such as those carried out by Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Michigan.

Glendening said he had reservations about a section of the bill that protects medical personnel from prosecution for their pain-relief efforts, but does not shield firefighters and emergency medical personnel. But he said legislative leaders have agreed to pass legislation next year addressing the omission.

Some allies concerned

The decision to sign the bill dismayed some of Glendening's staunchest allies in the legislature.

Del. Frank S. Turner, who helped round up the signatures of 56 of the lower chamber's 141 delegates on a petition urging a veto, said the law, which provides maximum penalties of a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, could have a "chilling effect" on relatives and medical personnel trying to ease a dying person's pain.

Turner, a Howard County Democrat, expressed concern that prosecutors would seek indictments in cases where they disagreed with end-of-life decisions. "Would they go after the relative?" he said. "Would they go after the doctor? Who would they go after?"

But Richard J. Dowling, a lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference, said his organization was pleased by Glendening's "rejection of Kevorkianism."

"We're really confident that this is going to be liberating for physicians who have heretofore looked over their shoulders when they administered appropriate pain medication," Dowling said.

The veto of the PSC bill was a sharp rebuke to commission Chairman Glenn F. Ivey, a Glendening appointee who has charted an independent course since being named to the post in March 1998.

The commission has five members, two of whom are Glendening allies appointed within the past week. The administration's amendment would have expanded the PSC to seven members, making it one of the largest public utilities regulators in the country.

The bill would have given the regulatory body, which has lost many experienced employees over the past three years, the power to pay its professional staff at a level higher than most state agencies.

The PSC told lawmakers that because of personnel restrictions, it pays senior staff employees less than any other state in the region and about half the salaries of comparable federal regulators. Within the last year, the agency has lost its general counsel, executive secretary and chief accountant to private companies it regulates.

Explanation of veto

Glendening said in his veto message that recent changes to the state's executive pay plan would let the PSC raise salaries without limiting the ability of the governor and the legislature to review its budget.

The governor also faulted the bill -- which passed the Senate and House unanimously -- for failing to provide the same salary flexibility to the Office of People's Counsel, the agency that represents consumer interests before the PSC. A March 9 memo from People's Counsel Michael J. Travieso shows that the agency supported the PSC bill.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he wouldn't describe the veto as payback for rejection of the administration amendment, but did think Glendening was giving the legislature "maybe a tweak or two."

Vetoed

Following are the measures vetoed yesterday by the governor:

SB-5 and HB-709, which would have shifted the collection of recordation taxes from court clerks to the individual counties at a cost of $5.7 million a year to the state -- a measure opposed by the judiciary.

SB-515 and HB-193, which would have protected existing liens from being superseded by unpaid personal property tax liens and drew opposition from the Maryland Association of Counties.

SB-423 and HB-1176, which created an income tax credit for tuition and related expenses. The governor said it would have cost too much and have duplicated his HOPE scholarship program.

SB-171 and HB-1012, which would have allowed the Public Service Commission to pay its senior staff higher salaries.

HB-787, which would have created a six-member Maryland Crime Laboratory Council apart from the Maryland State Police -- the agency the governor wants to oversee such labs.

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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