Friday, April 23, 2010

Good Bills Make Good Laws…Someday…Maybe

By Marc Korman.

I have recently discussed good bills that passed during the legislative session and bad bills that thankfully died. Now it is time to review a few good bills that failed to become law, but should have. By no means is this a comprehensive list.

HB 1091/SB 1028 - Autism Insurance

Even with the new federal healthcare law, states are still the primary regulator of health insurance. Each state sets its own “mandates” that health insurance providers must follow in the state. Some examples include mental health parity or ambulance trips. This legislation, introduced by Delegate Reznik in the House, would mandate insurers cover diagnosis and treatment for autism spectrum disorders. The bill included what amounted to a safety valve, waiving the mandate if it led to high premium increases.

Autism diagnoses are on the rise. There are varying theories as to whether this is due to better diagnostics or an actual increase in prevalence perhaps as a result of some environmental factor. The point is, as more families need to deal with these issues it is important that their healthcare support them. Health insurance has no value if when you need it most, it does not cover what you need it for. The General Assembly should reconsider and pass this bill next session. Full disclosure, I am Delegate Reznik’s campaign chair.

HB 351/SB 462 - Bag Tax

Washington, DC’s bag tax raised a very low $150,000 in January. It turns out, this is great news as DC consumers cut their disposable bag usage from 22.5 million per month to just 3 million per month. Delegate Carr once again tried to lead Maryland in replicating that success. His legislation would put a five cent tax on any disposable bag used and required that disposal bags be made of recyclable material. The store can retain 1 or 2 cents of every fee, depending on if they establish a credit program for those using reusable bags. The remainder of the funds would go to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Trust Fund.

For years bag taxes have been proposed across the country. They have usually been rejected due to lobbying by bag manufacturers and, in some cases, advocates for the poor. But they are finally being implemented and with great success as more and more people are choosing reusable bags. Washington, DC should be a model in this area for Maryland to follow in 2011.

HB 107/HB 344/SB 407 - Transparency Bills

At the beginning of the legislative session, there was great hope that legislation would be passed to open up state government. The varying proposals from Delegates Ali and Mizeur, Senator King, Common Cause, and others would have put committee votes online, required Board of Public Works agendas to be accessible in advance of meetings, webcast committee hearings, and made other sensible reforms. Happily, the General Assembly’s leadership began posting committee votes online without legislation. But the General Assembly needs to revisit the broader case for reform in 2011 and enter the 21st century when it comes to allowing people to access the General Assembly and their state government.

All of these bills should be reconsidered and passed in 2011. All of them would be a great step forward for the state.