ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate passed a long slate of bills Thursday in a scramble to make sure its proposals make it to the House before a Monday deadline.
Only one of the 66 bills considered – a bill to allow licensed pharmacists to distribute emergency contraceptives to people without a doctor’s prescription – failed. Votes on three others were postponed.
One of the highlights of the day was approval of a bill to permit eight days of early voting. The Senate leader’s bill was approved over objections about the cost of additional campaigning and last-minute events that could change voters’ minds.
“This is a long third-reader calendar,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert. “We’ll take it up slow and tediously.”
Miller said it was unusual to have such a large number of bills to deal with in one day, but said that the special session, where legislators overrode a malpractice bill veto, took away legislators’ preparatory time. The deadline for bills to pass the Senate before crossing over to the House is Monday.
Miller’s early voting measure passed with the smallest majority of the day, 35 to 12.
“This is designed to increase voter turnout,” said Miller. “People can vote at their leisure.”
About 35 states provide some sort of early voting. Miller’s bill requires designated early polling places to be open eight hours daily for the eight days before an election, including weekends.
Voters will be able to cast ballots in an early voting place within their home county. The state elections administrator will decide the number of local polling places, with the advice of the local elections board administrator.
A handful of Republican senators opposed the bill, including Sen. Alexander Mooney, R-Frederick, who listed “October surprises” — events occurring just days before an election that influenced its outcome.
The list included then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy intervening to help bail civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. out of a Birmingham jail in late October 1964. It helped Kennedy defeat Vice President Richard Nixon, 49.7 percent to 49.5 percent.
He also mentioned the release of police documents, shortly before the 2000 election, revealing that then-presidential candidate George W. Bush was arrested for drunken driving in Maine in the mid 1970s, although it did not affect his win.
“Everyone should have a common pool of information,” said Mooney, explaining his vote against the bill.
The bill that failed to pass the Senate, would have allowed easier access to emergency contraceptives, which can prevent a woman’s eggs from being fertilized or block the production of eggs. They are most effective when take up to three days after a woman has unprotected sex.
Proponents, including bill sponsor, Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said the bill would prevent unwanted children and would help victims of rape and incest.
“They deserve immediate access,” Grosfeld said. Emergency contraceptives are “safe and effective,” and the bill is “necessary because it will prevent abortions.”
Opponents, including Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, and Sen. Leo Green, D-Prince George’s, said the bill would drive teens to hide medical information from their parents and doctors and would encourage them to be more sexually active by bailing them out.
“This will be misused by young people,” Green said. “It will be an enabler.”
Other bills that passed the Senate included:
— SB 351, which requires schools and places caring for children to notify parents about drinking water contamination in writing 10 days after learning of the problem.
— SB 650, which increases the penalty for drunken and drugged drivers who knowingly refuse to take an impaired driving test upon a request from police.
— SB 834, which creates a program to study and improve screening practices for autism disorders.