House approves medical-decisions bill

Unmarried couples could register their preferences on database

General Assembly

March 30, 2004|By Michael Dresser and Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Michael Dresser and Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

The Maryland House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved yesterday a proposal that would open the way for adults in committed relationships to share life-or-death decisions by registering on a state database.

Also yesterday, the House approved a bill to encourage the use of renewable energy. And a Senate committee approved an amended version of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s environmental cleanup measure known as the "flush tax," and a key senator predicted the legislature would abandon plans to require paper receipts on the state's new electronic voting machines in time for this fall's election.

Lawmakers voted 103-30 in favor of the Medical Decision Making Act of 2004, which offers unmarried couples the right to sign up with a registry that doctors, funeral home operators and medical examiners would consult to confirm a person's preferred decision-maker.

Currently, only married couples are assumed to have the power to make medical or postmortem decisions for one another.

The measure now goes to the Senate. Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the committee that is likely to hear it, predicted a favorable reception in the Senate.

"I don't see why there would be a problem," she said.

The legislation was originally written to extend such benefits to same-sex couples and senior citizens who care for each other but decline to marry. An amendment added Saturday that would open the medical-decisions registry to all adult Marylanders helped many conservative lawmakers feel more comfortable with supporting the bill.

Carroll County Republican Del. Donald B. Elliott rose to endorse the bill, saying the final version would protect same-sex couples who would otherwise have had to identify themselves as gay to register.

"As amended, the bill gives cover to homosexuals," Elliott said.

The House also gave the green light yesterday to a bill introduced to encourage the use of "clean" energy sources by Maryland utility providers.

Delegates voted 108-29 to send to the Senate legislation that would require utilities to gradually increase the amount of energy they supply from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal from 2006 to 2019.

In the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, lawmakers approved Ehrlich's proposed surcharge on water bills to pay for sewage plant upgrades. The vote was 8-3.

As the House did earlier, the Senate committee amended the bill yesterday so that residential users of septic systems would also contribute to the cleanup. But where the House increased the charges septic pump-out companies pay when they take waste to a treatment plant, the Senate panel decided to impose the same $2.50-per-household charge on septic owners that users of public sewer systems would pay.

The committee left it to the administration to devise a mechanism to collect the charge. The two houses probably will have to go to a conference committee to work out the differences in their bills.

The Maryland Senate delayed yesterday a vote on a bill that would provide printable paper receipts of votes cast on new touch-screen voting machines manufactured by Diebold. Hollinger, whose committee also handles election issues, angered a group of critics of the electronic voting machines last night, telling them she believed the bill would be amended today to create a study commission to examine the issue.

The House of Delegates has approved the weakened version of the bill.

Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said that printable receipts could not be enacted by the November election, and that the state did not have the money to alter the system.

Leaders of said they felt "betrayed" by Hollinger's decision to yield on the paper receipt issue.

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