Ehrlich takes issue with appeal


Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took issue yesterday with his Democratic attorney general's decision to appeal a federal ruling overturning a state law that would have penalized Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for failing to boost spending for employee health care.

Speaking on his WBAL-AM radio program, Ehrlich said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. should not go forward with the appeal because Labor Secretary James D. Fielder Jr., a defendant in the lawsuit brought by a retail trade group that includes Wal-Mart, had asked him not to.

"His client is Jim Fielder, and his client has told him not to appeal," Ehrlich said. He did not say he knew that Curran's office had electronically filed the appeal Friday night with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly overrode Ehrlich's veto of the Wal-Mart bill in January.

Raising questions about Curran's role, the governor said: "That's going to be the question ... in Maryland politics this week. In my view, the attorney general has a real conflict here."

In a phone interview yesterday evening, Curran defended his appeal of the federal judge's decision, noting that he'd been asked by legislative leaders to go forward with it. Curran had declared he would seek an appeal after U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled Wednesday that the so-called Fair Share Health Care Fund Act violated a federal law promoting uniform treatment of employers.

"The secretary is not the legislature," Curran said. "The legislature makes the decisions and represents the citizens."

Curran noted that Fielder has not been sued as an individual but rather as the head of the state agency that would have to administer the law. Curran said that he, like Ehrlich and his cabinet, has a duty to defend Maryland law.

The health care act would require all companies in Maryland with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on workers' health care or pay a tax to make up the difference. Wal-Mart is the only company that would be affected.

The law is considered the first of its kind in the nation, and its passage was expected to build momentum for similar legislation throughout the country.

Ehrlich is running for re-election against Curran's son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Curran is not seeking re-election. Ehrlich has called the law anti-business.

"There's nothing political about this," Curran said. "The governor knows that. Fortunately, Maryland is not a monarchy. We have a constitutional form of government."

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