ANNAPOLIS – It’s official: the calico cat will become Maryland’s state cat. Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed that bill, and nearly 200 others into law Friday.
Among the others signed – prescription drug help for 200,000 seniors, money for the tobacco buyout and tax amnesty, which could provide $30 million for the mentally ill.
The bill signing also included the Patient Safety Act of 2001, which will require health care facilities to report all medical errors in order to help hospitals and patients spot consistent problems. Delegate Brian K. McHale, D- Baltimore, sponsored the bill in response to a National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine report that revealed between 43,000 and 98,000 Americans die yearly because of medical errors.
The signing came on the day The Washington Post reported the morphine overdose death of a 9-month-old girl at Children’s Hospital in the District of Columbia.
The new law requires the state to submit a preliminary report on medical errors by Jan. 2002.
The calico cat bill was one of the General Assembly’s less weighty measures, but it taught a good government lesson to the Westernport Elementary School Students in Allegany County who came up with the idea and lobbied heavily for it.
It was sponsored by Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, as a way to teach the students about the legislative process. However, he didn’t expect it to generate as much media attention as it did.
“I realized very early, this would be a force to be dealt with,” Kelly said.
Indeed it was. It was the only one of several state symbol bills – raven as state bird and pinxter-bloom azalea as state shrub – to pass this year. One of the most high-profile bills Glendening signed Friday was the measure to provide prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors.
Both the governor and Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, who was instrumental in orchestrating the bill, said the federal government should take responsibility for prescription drug coverage. The Maryland bill, they said, should be viewed as a stopgap.
Until the federal government can craft some prescription coverage, Glendening said, “we need to take care of our own.”
The Senior Prescription Drug Relief Act, effective July 1, will add more than $30 million to the Maryland Pharmacy Discount Program, Medbank and the Short-Term Drug Subsidy Program, all programs to provide free or discounted drugs to low-income or senior populations.
The state took another step toward Glendening’s goal of eliminating tobacco growing in Maryland with his signature on a bond bill to provide funding for a crop buyout program.
“The program has far exceeded expectations with 72 percent of eligible farmers . . . already agreeing to the buy out,” Glendening said.
The state now uses money from its share of the settlement with cigarette makers to help pay farmers not to grow tobacco. The additional bond money also will help farmers transition into new crops.
Delinquent Maryland taxpayers will get a break from another bill the governor approved. The tax amnesty program will permit any person delinquent on their taxes to pay all money owed free of penalty between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31. Signing the measure, which is expected to generate at least $30 million, eased criticism from other legislators that his budget didn’t provide enough money to transition mentally ill and disabled people from nursing homes into the community as required under a Supreme Court decision.
In his continuing effort to make higher education tuition-free for in- state students, the governor also signed a series of scholarship bills.
One would raise the eligibility requirement for the HOPE scholarship to $95,000. Another adds nursing scholarships to deal with the state’s nursing shortage.