Insurance fears narrow a political gap

THE POLITICAL GAME

Proposal: A Democrat and a Republican draft a plan to rein in the soaring cost of malpractice coverage for doctors.

July 27, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

TWO BALTIMORE County lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle say they have bridged the partisan gap that has frustrated efforts to restrain rising medical malpractice insurance rates.

Democratic Sen. James Brochin and Republican Del. John G. Trueschler say that during a 20-minute discussion over lunch this month, they drew up a potential solution to an issue that has driven a wedge between such leaders as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Brochin and Trueschler's plan would freeze doctors' insurance rates and raise vehicle registration fees to pay premium increases fueled by growing costs of legal settlements and jury verdicts in malpractice cases.

"This is the first time a Democrat and a Republican legislator have gotten together on a bipartisan plan," Brochin says. "We depoliticize the issue because we've been around so much in our district" and have seen its impact, he added.

Brochin and Trueschler want the General Assembly to address the issue in a special session this summer, and they say they are not wedded to the funding mechanism for the plan. But if a proposed 41 percent increase in insurance premiums becomes reality in January, they say, growing numbers of doctors will abandon the profession or move to states where rates are lower.

Trueschler said that he and Brochin disagree on the underlying causes of the problem and on a long-term solution. But he said there's no disagreement on the need for an immediate fix, even if it is temporary.

Their plan would give lawmakers five years to develop a permanent solution.

"It is something we cannot put off further," Trueschler said.

But their proposal has not generated immediate excitement. Ehrlich recently appointed a task force, which will release its findings in November. A separate Senate panel also is addressing the issue. And while Ehrlich has repeatedly called for a summer special session, there seems to be little momentum toward quick action.

Ehrlich has not reviewed the new proposal, said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor. "His task force remains on task," she said. "It doesn't derail the work of the bipartisan task force."

New online face of Md. is Governor Ehrlich's

Regular users of the state government's online services have noticed that a bland but eminently serviceable Web site featuring links to just about any branch or state government agency no longer exists.

Instead, computer users looking for the Maryland Electronic Capital site (www.mec.state. md.us) are directed to the new "State of Maryland homepage" (www.maryland.gov), which features a prominent photograph of Ehrlich as well as news releases about the governor.

Nick Sloan, a Department of Justice retiree and Annapolis lobbyist on veterans issues, is among those unhappy with the change.

"As far as I can see, [the new site] is the governor's home page, just about," Sloan said.

The previous site gave equal billing and access to the legislative and judicial branches, while the new home page concentrates on the executive branch and Ehrlich's message, Sloan said.

"I cannot see what they've added," he said. "It strikes me that all they've done is obscure the legislative and judiciary."

The governor's office says the change is part of an effort to make various and scattered state Web sites look more consistent. The same effort, according to internal administration documents, seeks to create wider visibility for the governor, and use him more aggressively as the face and voice of state government in Maryland.

Duckworth to join same-sex lawsuit debate

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Clerk Robert P. Duckworth plans to file legal papers today to become a defendant in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit aimed at overturning Maryland's prohibition of same-sex marriage.

The ACLU lawsuit names five local clerks in Maryland, but not Duckworth, a Republican running for Congress in the 3rd District against Democratic incumbent Benjamin L. Cardin.

Duckworth said he wants to be added to the case so he can offer his arguments. An opponent of same-sex marriage, Duckworth says he wants the case dismissed because he doesn't think judges should decide the matter. He says the debate should be settled by the electorate, either through referendum or by the decisions of elected officials.

"I'm not a supporter of same-sex marriage. I find it to be an oxymoron," said Duckworth.

Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin, said the congressman voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s, but does not support limiting the rights of citizens for judicial review of the issue.

Duckworth said that he was being aided in the case by the Alliance Defense Fund, a group founded to help restore religious values to the judicial system, and which counts Campus Crusade for Christ among its "founding ministries."

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