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March 9, 2003

General Assembly Journal - Part 12

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Trials and Tribulations

1st Week of March, 2003

Our final month in Annapolis is shaping up to be a real adventure. Iím not talking about a walk through the woods, either. Iím talking a mountain climb up a sheer rock face, without crampons and climbing gear. Several issues are looming, some for the whole General Assembly, some just for my committee.

In committee, it was announced today(March 5) that Steven Larson, the State Insurance Commissioner, has turned down the conversion of CareFirst (Blue Cross) to a non-profit. In an earlier journal, I described the fact that CareFirst wanted approval to convert prior to a potential sale to Wellpoint, a California company.

With Commissioner Larsonís decision, my committee will now have to deal with the most complex aspect of this entire matter. CareFirst had begun to move away from their historic position as insurer of last resort for many Marylanders. We canít afford to lose CareFirst, so we now have to work with them to re-structure their business.

This morning, the chairman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, Delegate John Hurson (D., Montgomery), asked me to attend a special work group on the issue of expanding cardiac care services in Maryland.

In a nutshell, current law specifies a process called the Certificate of Need (CON) to determine whether or not a hospital "qualifies" for expanded cardiac care services. The process is in place to protect patients from a degradation of care. The decision should not be a business-based decision. It should a medical, quality-of-care decision.

Weíll discuss a bill seeking to drop the CON process altogether. I want to examine the fact that while we probably shouldnít drop the CON for open-heart surgery, we may be able to allow new facilities to consider procedures like angioplasty. These are the kinds of tradeoffs, compromises, and analyses that make this experience so rewarding. This is why Iím here!

The other major issue is the budget. According to sources (read leaks), the Governor will produce the newest version of the slots bill by this Friday. The new version will reportedly address the question of license fees paid up front, the distribution of proceeds to track owners, and the actual amount of proceeds placed in the education trust fund.

The challenge is that we begin our floor deliberations on the budget in a WEEK! The Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees have already been holding hearings on the budget for several weeks. Accepting the premise that slots might be a major revenue source, weíre awfully late in the process to get the slots bill. Speaking of the Floor, we got a note from the Speaker [Del. Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel)] announcing the upcoming Floor schedule. We begin having double Floor sessions starting on March 17th. That means a Floor session in the morning, Committee/subcommittee hearings in the early afternoon, and another Floor session in the early evening. We also have one Saturday Floor session scheduled for the 22nd, and I have Committee voting sessions scheduled for the other Saturdays in March.

The Early Monroe Situation

How about a few things I regret? First, I regret a conversation with a News-Post reporter about the Early Monroe affair. In that conversation, I confirmed receipt of an email from Mr. Monroe during my tenure as Chief Operations Officer for the City of Frederick. In that email, Mr. Monroe suggested that he could solve the NAACP "problem" if we (Mayor Grimes and I) would give him a contract to write a cell tower ordinance for the city.

Some are asking why we didnít go to the authorities with that email note. The answer is quite simple. There is no law, State or Federal, that outlaws stupidity. I do not now, nor did I then, actually believe that Mr. Monroe possessed the ability to deliver on the offer he made. What he did was offer to do something that he lacked the most basic ability to do.

As an aside, Mr. Monroe disputes my recollection of having ever sent an email. Unfortunately, this isnít a "he said, he said" thing. There are several other people that this email was shared with. If I had done something so stupid, I suspect my memory would have deteriorated as well.

County Tax Sale

I also regret opening a Pandoraís Box on the question of the advertising of the Annual Tax Sale notices. The county commissionerís had requested a bill to correct language in the Code of Local Laws to allow the Treasurer to place these notices according to State law.

Our delegation had a very logical and thorough discussion of this question, and opted to add language to the bill adding a provision that the ads run in a paper with a circulation of at least 30,000. At least one commissioner alleges that action was motivated by a desire to create a monopoly for the News-Post. The truth is that the ONLY motivation was to see that the tax sale notices reach the highest possible number of readers, however that is done.

Iíll keep trying to limit the regrets while expanding the list of accomplishments for which I can be proud. The best aspect of this job is that I donít get to decide how Iíve done. Youíll get the chance to tell me how you think Iíve done. I hope you do!

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