Bill would extend call ban to elections

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 03, 2007

Automated political campaign phone calls to anyone on the federal do-not-call registry would be banned in Maryland under a bill expected to be introduced in the General Assembly on Monday.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Del. Dan K. Morhaim of Baltimore County, said that so-called "robo-calls" were "a novelty" in 2004. But they were taken to a new level last year, he said, one that many constituents found annoying.

"People would be getting four to six calls a night for weeks leading up to the election," Morhaim said. "I didn't use them in my campaign. I don't fault anybody who did, but it just got excessive."

Morhaim said that some of his constituents saved the messages the automated systems left on their answering machines. Morhaim said that some of the calls didn't have the necessary language explaining who paid for the advertisement.

Morhaim's bill would ban any prerecorded calls "related to" a political campaign. "I especially received complaints from seniors," he said.

Melissa Harris

Trade group endorses pack tax

A proposal to raise the cigarette tax to pay for extending health-care coverage to uninsured Marylanders is gaining support in the business community.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade has endorsed a proposal hatched by the Greater Baltimore Committee, an influential business group, that would double the tax to $2 per pack. The uses of the tax revenue would include expanding Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income residents.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is expected to take no position on the tobacco tax because its health care committee has recommended that stance. The chamber opposed the tax increase last year. Spokesman William R. Burns said the chamber has members "on both sides of the issue." Retailers oppose the increased tax, while hospitals support it.

Meanwhile, some legislators are exploring other options to pay for providing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders without any coverage - including tapping funds from other government programs. Those ideas also might win an endorsement from business groups. GBC spokesman Gene Bracken said his group would "welcome" other financing solutions.

Laura Smitherman

Vaccine purchases to be studied

Seeking to ensure adequate access to immunizations against the flu and other diseases, Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing a task force to study the idea of a centralized vaccine purchasing system. Physicians are often reluctant to purchase large stocks of vaccines because they have a limited shelf life and can go to waste if demand isn't high enough, according to a news release from the governor's office. O'Malley is proposing that the state's Advisory Committee on Immunizations report on the viability of a universal purchasing authority, which would take responsibility for allocating vaccines across the state to meet demand. According to the news release, at least eight other states have established such a system.

Andrew A. Green

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