By Joseph Bacchus and Ryan Spass
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s House Republican Caucus Tuesday called for a special session on the medical malpractice problem, but ended up deflecting questions on an e-mail order from GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s office not to join a petition to force a session.
“Our caucus is well sharpened and ready to come to a special session on this issue,” said Minority Whip Anthony O’Donnell, of Calvert County. “We’re calling for the legislative leadership to allow a special session to occur to resolve these issues.”
Ehrlich, House Speaker Michael Busch and the Senate president all have said convening a special session on medical malpractice is necessary before doctors are forced to pay their insurance premiums — which are rising 33 percent — at the end of December.
But the 13 caucus members who attended the news conference admitted they haven’t joined a petition circulated by their Democratic counterparts to require Ehrlich to call a special session on the issue.
Then later, they denied receiving an order from Ehrlich not to join the Democrats’ special session effort.
After the news conference, Busch, D-Anne Arundel, revealed the Nov. 11 e-mail message from the governor’s Director of Policy Joseph Getty, that read: “Do not sign on to any petition for House members to request a special session,” and “Do not sign on to any proposed bills that are alternatives to the governor’s bill.” The e-mail was addressed to 73 people, including members of the Republican caucus.
By law, only the governor has the power to call a special session, but is required to convene the General Assembly if a majority of the members of both chambers petition to do so and agree on a date. The House Democratic Caucus gathered 71 signatures in favor of a special session at its Nov. 9 meeting, according to Busch’s office.
The Senate has not circulated a similar petition and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, was not available for comment.
At the news conference, Chief Deputy Whip Charles Boutin, R-Harford, said he had not been told to sign a petition like the Democratic one, “nor have I been instructed not to.”
O’Donnell said Republicans were only told to be “cautious,” and Minority Leader George Edwards, R-Garrett, said “it’s not in our interest to call a special session without the governor.”
Boutin, O’Donnell and Edwards were all listed as recipients of the e-mail. The message said O’Donnell and Edwards suggested the instructions be sent.
Getty confirmed the e-mail came from his office, but insisted it was not meant as a warning against taking sides against the governor.
“This wasn’t a call that everybody has to be lock-step with the governor,” Getty said.
Getty said the governor is not against Republican House members signing a petition for a special session nor their supporting a medical malpractice bill other than the governor’s.
The e-mail, he said, was “legislative speak,” the same as a typical in-session warning against supporting legislation before all the details are known.
However, Busch said it was clearly a warning, even noting that section of the e-mail was typed in all capital letters.
“I think it’s pretty clear the governor doesn’t want a bipartisan solution to this if he wants one at all,” Busch said, then reading the portion of the e-mail aloud.
Boutin, O’Donnell and Edwards could not be reached for comment following Busch’s reaction.
Meanwhile, a Senate special task force on the issue is scheduled to make its recommendations for legislation today, just one week after the governor’s task force came out with its 67-page report on medical malpractice changes.
Busch, Miller and Ehrlich have said they will meet again after the Senate task force makes its report.
– 30 – CNS-11