Gov. Parris N. Glendening reversed a hard-won victory for the nursing profession yesterday as he vetoed legislation that would have let nurse practitioners serve as primary care providers for patients in HMOs.
The veto, which disappointed some of the governor's staunchest supporters, was one of 18 announced yesterday. The vetoed bills included, as expected, one that would have required gun safety education classes in public schools.
Also vetoed were bills that would have given a tax break to cigarette wholesalers and repealed the 50-mph speed limit for school buses.
Glendening said he vetoed the nurse practitioners bill because of worries that consumers would be "coerced" by health maintenance organizations into choosing nurses over doctors.
"We have had to take many steps to protect people from the HMOs who focus more on economics than on health care delivery. This bill could erode those protections," the governor said in a statement.
The veto was a victory for the doctors' lobby, whose members urged Glendening to kill the legislation.
The governor expressed concern about a lack of consensus among health care professionals on the role of the state's estimated 1,600 nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are a small group of nurses who obtain advanced degrees, but the bill had support among nurses generally.
The veto was a bitter blow to advocates, who have sought such legislation for years. Their victory in the General Assembly this year occurred only after both chambers reconsidered votes killing the bill. In the Senate, they achieved their victory by one vote on the last day of the legislative session.
Del. Marilyn R. Goldwater, a nurse, said she was "surprised and disappointed" by the veto of a bill that would have shown that nurses were "valued and respected."
"There is no way that the HMOs could replace doctors with nurse practitioners," said the Montgomery County Democrat, usually a strong Glendening ally.
The governor vetoed the gun safety education bill after hearing protests from teachers who were troubled by a provision under which local school systems could have permitted middle and high school students to handle guns at firing ranges.
Glendening said the provision raised the "specter" of the National Rifle Association "taking busloads of 13-year-old boys and girls off to a firing range for a day of shooting." The bill would have allowed school systems to choose from curriculums developed by the NRA and two other groups.
"Taking such a sensitive and important program out of the county's hands and turning it over to an organization such as the NRA is not appropriate," the governor said.
Greg Costa, a lobbyist for the NRA, called the governor's comments "gratuitous" and accused him of turning the issue into a "political football."
The vetoed bill was a compromise crafted by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. from competing proposals supported by the NRA and gun control advocates.
Among those who agreed to the compromise were John and Carole Price of Carroll County, whose 13-year-old son's death in a firearms accident led them to champion the bill.
Glendening met with the Prices yesterday morning to explain his decision.
"I'm saddened by the decision, but I understand it," Carole Price said.
Taylor was not as conciliatory, calling the governor's objections "totally unfounded" and "absurd." The Cumberland Democrat said he would seriously consider an override attempt. If he were to succeed, it would be a first. In seven years in office, Glendening has never had a veto overridden.
Among the other bills vetoed was one that would have increased the discount on tobacco tax stamps sold to wholesalers. The governor called the measure "a step backward" in the state's efforts to discourage cigarette use.
The governor also vetoed legislation that would have allowed school buses to travel at the same speeds as other vehicles instead of being limited to 50 mph. He said the lack of safety restraints makes speed limits the only means the state has of protecting students in the event of an accident.
Glendening also vetoed legislation making changes in the homebuilders code, saying a provision exempting custom builders from requirements that they disclose the presence of hazardous materials was "a fundamental flaw."
Glendening will sign the remaining legislation from the 2001 session at a State House ceremony today.