GOP says Democratic leaders blocking malpractice reform, legalization of slots

Busch, Miller criticized as obstructionists

December 01, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Republican delegates demanded yesterday that the Democratic leaders in Maryland's legislature stop blocking the governor's efforts to reform the medical malpractice system and legalize slot machines.

Flanked by more than a dozen Republican delegates, Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell said House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller form bookends of obstructionism on the two issues, with Busch preventing a floor vote on slots and Miller objecting to many of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposals on medical malpractice.

"The leadership needs to start moving these issues," said Minority Leader George C. Edwards of Garrett County.

The Republican delegates said they did not have a specific malpractice proposal they want legislative leaders to act on but believe they should continue negotiating with the governor in hopes that legislation can be passed in a special session before the end of the year.

Ehrlich has disagreed with Miller about limits on malpractice lawsuits. The governor and the Democratic leaders have also differed on how to pay for a fund that would prevent the 33 percent premium increases faced by many Maryland doctors next year, with the legislators favoring a 2 percent tax on HMO premiums.

But the Republicans said yesterday they don't believe a dedicated funding source is necessary because one-time revenues or rainy-day funds could pay for it until limits on malpractice lawsuits took effect and lower the premiums.

Funding would not be an issue at all, they said, if the legislature had legalized slot machines. Ehrlich and Miller have supported slots, but Busch has opposed them.

Although Ehrlich said he wasn't going to "spend any more political capital" on slots after a deal fell through this fall, Edwards and O'Donnell said they believe he will introduce another gambling bill in the annual 90-day General Assembly session that begins in January.

"It is time the leadership of the Assembly show their ability to lead and get this bill out and pass it," said Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Harford County Republican.

Busch dismissed the GOP demands as "immature," saying the lawmakers seemed more eager to complain than to work toward compromise.

"It's that old thing, everybody wants to go to heaven but none of them want to die," Busch said. "Everybody wants to take credit, but nobody wants to step up and offer a solution."

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