- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate narrowly rejected a bill yesterday that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense without a prescription an emergency contraceptive known as the “morning-after pill.”

Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris said the outcome was unexpected because the chamber’s Democratic majority appeared to support the bill.

“I was surprised, and I count votes for a living,” Mr. Harris, a Baltimore and Harford counties Republican, said after the 25-to-21 vote.

The bill also had strong support from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Calvert and Prince George’s counties Democrat. But many lawmakers objected to a provision that allowed adolescent girls to get the contraception without parental consent or a consultation with a doctor.

“This allows 12-and-13-year-olds to go into a pharmacy and get this thing without consulting a physician,” Mr. Harris said during the debate. He also said lawmakers should be encouraging girls to go to doctors and parents, “not a Rite Aid.”

Republicans, who unanimously opposed the legislation, were joined by 12 Democrats in defeating the bill.

The legislation would have created a program within the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to certify pharmacists to dispense the emergency contraceptives. However, participation in the program was not mandatory.

The pills are available over the counter in five states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration delayed a decision on making a morning-after pill called Plan B available without a prescription.

Regulators said they needed more time to research the pill’s affect on 16- and 17-year-old girls. A decision is expected in May. The Maryland bill applied to Plan B and other morning after pills now available with a prescription.

Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, Montgomery Democrat and lead sponsor of the Maryland bill, argued that easier access to contraceptive pills would reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

“Focusing this issue on children, adolescents ages 12 and 13, is a red herring,” she said.

Mrs. Grosfeld said the majority of women who will use the emergency contraception will be adults whose contraception failed.

She also said the bill should not be included in the abortion debate because the American Medical Association has classified morning-after pills as contraceptives.

The pills prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus.

Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, Howard Republican, said during the debate that she supports abortion rights for women, not girls.

“This bill goes way too far,” she said. “I don’t think 12-through-16-year-olds should have this easy way out.”

• • •

House lawmakers yesterdayapproved a bill giving workers another dollar an hour. The Senate approved a similar provision earlier this month, moving the Democrat-controlled legislature closer to another showdown with the governor, who has consistently sided against mandating increases in the minimum wage. He has not decided whether to veto the proposals but favors the Senate version, which gives businesses the option of offering health-care coverage in lieu of the higher pay rate. Both bills would raise the hourly wage to $6.15. The state’s rate now matches the federal rate of $5.15 an hour.

• • •

Republicans gave their support Wednesday to a bill by Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, that would limit Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s authority to sell parkland.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, requested the move, which will undercut criticism by state Democrats of the administration’s land policies. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would require voters’ approval. The change would stop the “sale, transfer, exchange, grant or other disposition” of forests, parkland, open space and preserved land without the permission of the General Assembly, currently controlled by Democrats.

• • •

Senators yesterday approved a bill that would allow Maryland voters to cast ballots in the period leading up to Election Day.

The legislation, proposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s and Calvert Democrat, was approved by a 35-12 vote.

Republicans who voted against the bill argued that it will drive up the cost of campaigns, because most candidates spend the largest chunks of money — on phone banks and mailers — in the final days of their races.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, said the legislation effectively would eliminate Election Day and make it harder for challengers to win elections.

More than a dozen other states allow early voting, but unless Marylanders can cast absentee ballots, they can vote only by going to polling place on the day of the primary and general elections.

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