- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Democratic-controlled General Assembly has passed emergency legislation that would reduce Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s control over the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The bill, which the House approved yesterday and the Senate last month in party-line votes, requires the governor to select board members nominated by the political parties.

The five-member board would continue with at least two members from each party, but the governor would have considerably less latitude in making the appointments.

“They are dismantling the board solely for partisan purposes,” said Henry T. Fawell, spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “It is a further demonstration of the length that a handful of lawmakers will go to preserve their own power.”

But Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the legislation was necessary because Mr. Ehrlich has stacked the board with Republicans and “weak Democrats.”

“Right now, we have a Republican board of elections,” the Baltimore County Democrat said. “We watched Florida. We watched Ohio. We have elections coming up next year, and if there is any question about the election, nobody will trust the results.”

Because the bill was passed as emergency legislation, Mr. Ehrlich has six days to exercise a veto. Mr. Fawell said the governor has “obvious concerns” about the bill but declined to comment on a veto.

The bill passed by more than two-thirds majorities in both chambers, making the legislation veto-proof without significant defections by Democratic lawmakers.

The elections board has been a focus of the state’s new partisan struggle since last year when Republican board members moved to fire longtime Administrator Linda H. Lamone.

A court injunction has kept Miss Lamone in office, and the legislation passed yesterday would allow Senate Democrats to keep her in office as long as they want.

Democratic members of the board also have left office in quick succession. Gene Raynor filled a vacancy on the board last spring but resigned in January. Richard E. Menikheim was appointed last spring but soon stepped down because of failing health.

Mr. Ehrlich appointed former Delegate Frank D. Boston Jr. to fill the Democratic slot vacated by Mr. Menikheim. However, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday that the governor plans to withdraw Mr. Boston’s nomination.

Current member are Mr. Boston and Republicans Gilles W. Burger, Joan Beck and A. Susan Widerman.

• • •

Medical malpractice insurance reform legislation — the subject of an emergency legislative session at the end of last year — finally will go into effect after Mr. Ehrlich allowed a follow-up bill to become law this week.

Physicians looking for relief from their skyrocketing insurance premiums may find out as early as next week how much money they will save and how to go about getting refunds, said Michael Preston, executive director of the Maryland State Medical Society.

MedChi, the state’s largest malpractice insurance carrier, is expected to notify doctors within the next two weeks, he said.

• • •

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow employers to pay workers who do not have bank accounts electronically through a bank card.

Like debit cards, payroll cards or paycards could be used to withdraw money from automated teller machines, pay bills electronically, make store purchases and buy items online.

Perhaps more important, the cards offer workers an alternative to check-cashing services, state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat, said.

“Many of these people don’t get a direct deposit because they don’t have a bank. They pay ridiculous fees to cash the checks, and then they carry around all that money as cash, which is dangerous,” Mrs. Kelley told the Baltimore Daily Record.

Versions of the proposal have been approved in both houses.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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