ANNAPOLIS – Witnesses beware – if you have something to say to the Senate Finance Committee, you had better show up to say it in person.
Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, lambasted the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Thursday for failing to send a representative to Annapolis to explain its position on a bill the committee was hearing.
It’s not the first time the department, which did submit written testimony and amendments, has failed to show up for bills treading on its turf.
“I’ve got to chase down the department” for answers to the committee’s questions about several bills, including living wage and universal health care bills, Middleton said.
Kim Mayer, a department representative from the government affairs office, happened to be in the committee room. Middleton put her on the spot, asking her to send his message back to the department.
The bill in question requires the Mental Hygiene Administration to put the proceeds from a market sale of administration property into a trust fund dedicated to community-based services, including housing and employment assistance.
With the Crownsville Hospital Center scheduled to close by July 1, the bill would affect the funds generated from the property’s sale unless it is transferred to another government entity. Anne Arundel County has expressed interest in the property, but hasn’t committed because of lingering questions of environmental impact and funding.
Several advocacy groups also supported the legislation, but some opposed a departmental amendment that limited their groups’ input on how the trust fund would be spent. Without someone from the department there to respond, all the committee heard was opposition.
“When you get these issues that are very, very divided, it’s helpful to know where the administration is,” Middleton said. “It’s important for them to be here.”
Other departments have also failed to send representatives, Middleton said, recalling the new banking commissioner’s absence from a recent relevant bill hearing. Some departments, such as the Maryland Insurance Administration, are always present, Middleton said.
After the hearing, Middleton said he shared his frustration with Health Secretary Nelson Sabatini, who personally attends several committee hearings a week in Annapolis.
With a lot of money and programs potentially impacted by the legislation, advocates thought the chairman’s response was justified.
“He’s smart, he’s fair, and he cares,” said Lori Doyle, a spokeswoman for Community Behavior Health Association of Maryland who testified for the bill.