ANNAPOLIS – Picking up the pace on its legislative calendar, the Maryland Senate passed legislation Thursday that would prohibit state legislators from granting scholarships to their own and their colleagues’ family members.
The Senate also approved a Baltimore City pilot program that would allow people with chlamydia and gonorrhea to pass on medication to their sexual partners without having their partners submit to a medical examination.
In passing what is called the Legislative Scholarships Integrity Act of 2007, the Senate took aim at a time honored legislative perk that has been criticized for decades by reformers and good government groups as a stubborn vestige of old-time political patronage.
This year, members of the General Assembly have more than $11 million in scholarships at their disposal, which they may award without regard to financial need. Since the program became a lightening rod for criticism in the 1970’s, many members have stepped back from the process of awarding scholarships by appointing special committees or turning them over to a state agency.
Still, there is no prohibition in the law against legislators awarding the scholarships to their relatives.
“The idea behind the bill was to make it explicitly clear that the state legislature is against nepotism,” Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, the bill’s sponsor, said during Senate debate last week.
Some lawmakers, however, were concerned that the bill, which passed 39-8, went too far and would require lawmakers to research the family trees of all the legislators in their districts before they awarded scholarships next year.
“So the grandson of a delegate in my district, a kid I don’t even know, could be affected by this?” asked Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, during last week’s debate. “That doesn’t seem fair.”
The final version of the bill included an amendment by Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, that specified a lawmaker would have to “knowingly” grant a scholarship to a relative to be in violation of the law. Pipkin repeatedly expressed his disapproval of the bill, saying it was simply “common sense” for legislators to not grant awards to family members.
The Senate also gave final approval, 42-5, to creation of a pilot program in Baltimore that would allow chlamydia and gonorrhea patients to pass on prescribed medication to their sexual partners, without requiring the partner to be seen or examined by a health care worker.
Despite a recent decline in the number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases, the rate of these diseases in Baltimore still outpaces the national average, according to the city health department. The city has consistently recorded the highest number of cases of both diseases compared to other counties in Maryland.
“We still have high numbers of individuals contracting sexually transmitted diseases and the concern is if we don’t adopt measures to mitigate that, they will simply increase,” said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore, the bill’s sponsor. McFadden has also voiced concern that people would become “comfortable” with the lower levels, and feared that reckless sexual behavior could drive the rates back up.
The antibiotics used to treat gonorrhea and chlamydia pose little risk to patients and no adverse events were reported during the program’s trial phase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no state law on dispensing medications to a middle man, and Maryland is one of 28 states where this practice is not specifically banned. However, state law allows pharmacists to be subjected to disciplinary action if they fill prescriptions for individuals who did not see a doctor. Both bills now head to the House of Delegates for consideration, possibly as early as next week.