ANNAPOLIS – A Maryland state senator said he is being removed from his seat on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee because he disagrees with the Senate president on medical malpractice tort reform.
Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, informed him Wednesday that he was being replaced on the committee by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County, an attorney.
Brochin, an insurance broker, last year voted against a hard cap on pain-and-suffering awards that medical malpractice victims receive – a provision that Miller, a lawyer, opposed in Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s recent bill.
But Brochin called Miller last month to tell him he had changed his mind – an act he said influenced Miller’s decision to remove him from the committee.
“I think the impetus was me calling him six weeks ago,” Brochin said. “I thought I brought a perspective in – not being an attorney. I don’t think that adding a trial lawyer will get anything done.”
Victoria K. Fretwell, Miller’s public information officer, said committee changes are necessary due to the Sept. 11 death of Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, although nothing will be official until next week.
Miller could not be reached for comment.
Kittleman, a senator since 2002, was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee.
Kittleman’s death gave Miller the opportunity to add an agreeable voice to the committee, said Brochin, who has been moved to the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Stone, a lawyer with Baltimore Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos’ firm, said he does not have an opinion about caps at this time.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee has the jurisdiction to make tort reform recommendations, including caps on damages. These recommendations carry great weight because of Maryland’s strong committee system, said Mike Volk of Legislative Services.
Michael Preston, executive director of MedChi, said Brochin’s removal is discouraging, but he is hopeful the malpractice issue can be resolved regardless.
“We continue to have some indication that we’ll have some movement in the positive direction, so that the makeup of the Judicial Proceedings Committee won’t matter,” Preston said.
The move will have no effect on the governor’s medical malpractice decisions, said Henry P. Fawell, the governor’s spokesman.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, was not available for comment.
Ehrlich, Miller and Busch are facing pressure to resolve medical malpractice problems before doctors’ insurance costs rise by 33 percent on Jan. 1 and have met to discuss solutions. Another meeting is expected soon.
One of the controversial aspects of the malpractice issue is determining how to help pay for these increasing premiums. Ehrlich’s proposal calls for the establishment of an as-yet unidentified pool of money to fund the rising insurance costs.
Miller and Busch met last week and agreed that money for the funding source should come from removal of the 2 percent tax exemption enjoyed by HMOs, but Ehrlich has been resistant to this proposal.
Brochin said he is also opposed to the HMO tax, but favors using drunken driving fees and increasing vehicle registration fees to help pay for rising insurance rates.
Stone said he hasn’t decided on the best funding option, but can’t fathom a further fee increase for vehicle registration.
Maryland’s top three leaders agree the issue must be solved quickly, possibly in a special session of the General Assembly before it convenes for regular session in January.
The House Democratic caucus Tuesday circulated a petition at a closed-door meeting that could force Ehrlich to call a special session.
The Senate Democratic caucus has not planned anything similar to this point, Fretwell said.