Assembly Digest

ASSEMBLY DIGEST

March 30, 2005|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Both houses adopt drug discount for uninsured residents

About 40,000 uninsured Marylanders would receive lower cost prescription drugs under legislation unanimously adopted by the House and Senate.

The Senate gave approval this week to the plan that would allow individuals earning up to $19,140 a year or a family of four making $38,700 to buy drugs at the Medicaid price, which is lower than retail.

The bills (SB 728 and HB 1143) require the state health department to seek a waiver from the federal government that would allow the program. Aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. testified in favor of the program, said Glenn E. Schneider, executive director of Health Care for All, a coalition that backed the bills.

Senate OKs bill to create fund for first responders

Members of the Maryland Senate passed a measure yesterday to create a fund for local emergency response teams by imposing a $50-per-point fine on drivers with more than five points on their licenses and by charging motorists $300 for first-time alcohol violations.

In a 30-17 vote - mostly along party lines - senators backed the bill, proposed by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat. Republicans argued that the legislation would create another state bureaucracy.

The bill would allow a private firm to collect the fees, expected to generate millions of dollars to support personnel and equipment for first responders, including fire, rescue, emergency medical services and law enforcement. A similar bill in the House of Delegates has not moved out of committee.

Amended stem-cell bill passes Senate budget panel

A bill that would provide state money for embryonic stem-cell research was approved yesterday by the second of two Senate committees deciding its fate - but not before it was amended to alter the $23 million-a-year funding source.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed the measure by a 9-4 vote, approving a version making the money available only if the governor includes it in the state budget.

A similar version of the bill passed earlier by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee funded the research from settlement payments made by tobacco companies. Under the Budget and Taxation Committee plan, money would come from general tax dollars, but only as allocated by the governor.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, head of the education committee and lead sponsor of the bill, said the change was acceptable. She said she expected her committee to adopt the funding amendment today.

"This really puts it in the governor's lap," said Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat. "He's got to make a decision whether or not he wants the scientists to stay in Maryland."

The change would make the Senate bill different from a version approved by the House this week. Opponents in the Senate might have enough strength to filibuster the bill, however, so final passage is uncertain.

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