- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

As expected Tuesday, Maryland Democrats overrode Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s veto of medical-malpractice insurance legislation passed in a special session last month. But it could prove to be a pyrrhic victory for House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller and the rest of the General Assembly’s Democratic bloc, who once again have placed themselves squarely on the side of higher taxes.

In a mostly party-line vote, the Senate, where Democrats hold a 33-14 advantage, voted 31-15 to override the Ehrlich veto (two votes more than the three-fifths supermajority needed to override.) In the House, 85 Democrats — the minimum number required by law — voted to override the veto; all 41 Republicans who voted were joined by nine dissident Democrats in voting with the governor.

The medical-malpractice bill limits increases in doctors’ malpractice-insurance premiums, and includes provisions freezing Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages at $650,000 over three years, $150,000 above the limit sought by Mr. Ehrlich. The legislation does not include a provision requested by the governor to discipline lawyers who file frivolous malpractice suits, nor does it require the losing side to pay litigation costs. The governor’s major objection was the fact that the bill relied on a new 2 percent tax on HMOs to subsidize doctors’ health-insurance premiums, which have risen 70 percent in the past few years. In explaining his decision to veto the bill, Mr. Ehrlich rightly criticized the HMO tax as a measure that will harm working families by making insurance premiums more expensive. “A superfund for trial lawyers has been created, and I suspect that was the goal,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

On the positive side, House Democrats failed to bring up two pieces of legislation: One would have tied college tuition costs to increasing corporate-income-taxes; the other would have forced companies that contract with the state to establish a $10.50-an-hour living wage for employees, which would have made state services more expensive.

Although Democrats prevailed on the medical-malpractice bill, we suspect that this could prove to be one of those victories that ends up costing Democrats in Republican-trending jurisdictions like Anne Arundel County, where Mr. Ehrlich won by 64 percent in 2002.

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