Steele chides GOP for infighting
Embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele lashed out at GOP infighting Tuesday and urged the party faithful - some of whom have criticized his erratic statements - to be more like him: "unconventional, unpredictable ... to do from time to time the unexpected." At a fundraiser for the Anne Arundel County Republican Party that raised $36,000, the former Maryland lieutenant governor jokingly acknowledged the rough road he has traveled since taking over the national party this year. "Someone told me this whole chairmanship thing would be a cakewalk," he told the crowd of more than 400, acknowledging that he has managed to "tick off" many people. Still, Steele expressed frustration with the public airing of party doubts about his leadership that have dogged his first months as chairman.
Move to delay medevac buy dies in Senate
A last-ditch effort to delay the purchase of new medical transport helicopters died in the Maryland Senate on Tuesday, boosting continued police control over the state's medevac system. Critics of the state police aviation unit, which has come under increasing scrutiny since a fatal accident last year, had hoped to stall the multimillion-dollar overhaul of the state's aging helicopter fleet until the legislature studied the issue for another year. The presiding officers and budget leaders in both chambers are in favor of starting to replace the 12-helicopter fleet next fiscal year. Replacement helicopters could cost as much as $20 million each. "Once we start on this trail, we're committed," warned Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. Astle, a former medevac pilot, has been an outspoken critic of police control over the 12-aircraft medevac fleet and has argued for exploring privatization. Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, urged his colleagues not to rush into the procurement, calling it "the largest purchase of aircraft, apart from the federal government ... in this country's history." But after an emotional hearing, in which many senators expressed concern that delaying the procurement would endanger the fleet's safety and increase future costs, the study bill failed by a 32-14 vote. "We really do not need to delay this decision any longer," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, a Washington County Republican. "I don't think we should be taking a chance with 20-year-old airplanes, frankly."
2-year halt pondered in spending mandates
With the prospect of a long recession ahead, the Maryland Senate is considering freezing spending mandates for two years. The provision, inserted into an annual budget-balancing bill and applied to the 2011 and 2012 budget years, is likely to draw objections from entities such as higher education institutions that benefit from automatic spending increases required by law. The full Senate and House of Delegates still have to agree on the provision for it to become law. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said it would send the message that "we're serious about balancing the budget."
Health care bill passes in the Senate
The Maryland Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that would require hospitals to provide free care to uninsured patients with incomes of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill, crafted in response to an investigative series in The Baltimore Sun into the state's system for charity care, would also prohibit hospitals from charging interest on overdue bills before creditors obtain a court judgment, and it would require them to develop informational literature on financial assistance to be given to patients. The House of Delegates approved the legislation over the weekend.