More than budget is on legislators' agendas

Gazette.net posted the article below, which discusses the proposed legislation to allow direct wine shipping in Maryland:

More than budget is on legislators' agendas

Malpractice caps, judge elections, wine and more on tap

ANNAPOLIS — It's no secret the 2010 General Assembly will be all about Maryland's faltering finances, but other issues are sure to share the spotlight as the 90-day session unfolds.

One involves a pair of cases before the Maryland Court of Appeals that could remake the way state courts handle medical malpractice limits, essentially invalidating a 2004 special session called by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

"We are prepared to go to Annapolis with bill in hand if the Court of Appeals doesn't rule, in our mind, the correct way," said Gene M. Ransom III, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland medical society.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said lawmakers rarely introduce bills when a case is still before the court.

"We're very reluctant to intervene in cases while they are in court because you want direction on what they think is consistent and inconsistent," said Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis.

The first case involves a Silver Spring dermatologist who was sued after a Rockville lawyer died from skin cancer.

The judge ruled malpractice limits did not apply in the case and allowed a jury award of $5.8 million. With the caps, damages would be reduced to $3.5 million.

In the second case, the Court of Special Appeals ruled a Circuit Court improperly applied the state's caps on noneconomic damages. An Anne Arundel judge reduced a jury award from $4 million to $1 million in a case in which a 5-year-old boy drowned in a country club swimming pool.

One of the arguments in the case is that any cap, imposed by legislation, violates separation of powers.

In another legal matter, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) wants to save Circuit Court judges from electoral challenges. After appointment, judges must stand for election, which Gansler said could lead to them soliciting political contributions and questions about their impartiality.

Instead, he believes the judges should stand for retention election; that is, voters should decide whether they stay on the bench or not, as they do for appeals court judges.

A change would require an amendment to the state's constitution.

One of the casualties of Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) pared-down budget proposal for fiscal 2011 might be a new voting system. Maryland's touch-screen voting machines were to be replaced with optical scanners that read paper ballots.

The cost could keep the project from moving forward.

Now that early voting has been approved and will be used for the first time before the Sept. 14 primary, Del. Kirill Reznik said he plans to introduce an Election Day voter registration bill.

If passed, the bill would put a ballot question on November's general election ballot. It would ask whether to amend the constitution to allow voters to register to vote at polling places on Election Day.

"The point of the bill is to make sure everyone who is entitled to a vote has a way of casting that vote, and this is just one more way of ensuring that opportunity," said Reznik (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown.

House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro has said legislation to allow direct wine shipping could prove to be the "sleeper issue" for his committee.

Current law prohibits wineries located inside or outside of Maryland from shipping wine directly to state residents. Del. Carolyn J. Krysiak (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore plans to introduce a bill to change that.

Distributors are worried that the law could cut into their business and open the door to direct sale of beer and liquor. Thirty-seven other states allow direct wine sales.

With budget concerns encircling the State House, the Maryland Catholic Conference is taking a different approach in its efforts to pass legislation that has repeatedly failed.

The so-called "BOAST" bill — Building Opportunities for Teachers and Students — is similar to other state tax credit programs. It would provide scholarships for nonpublic school students and grants for nonpublic school teachers by offering businesses a state income tax credit in exchange for their donations.

In light of the state's budget woes, advocates are only seeking authorization to establish the program, not funding to support it. The idea is to set up the structure of the program now, so when the economy brightens and money becomes available, no time is wasted to get it up and running, said Mary Sullivan, the conference's communications director.

Wineries with Permits

Wineries Able to Ship to MD

Here is a link to the Comptroller's website. Search for "DW-Direct Wine Shippers Permit" under permit type.

Search for wineries

 

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