ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s efforts to implement federal health care reform topped a list of a list of bills signed Tuesday by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The Democratic governor, a strong supporter of the federal law, signed a measure to create a framework for the state’s health exchange, a marketplace designed to make health care more affordable for people and small businesses that have trouble finding coverage. It also will help residents get federal subsidies and tax credits.
Federal law requires states to have an exchange certified by 2013 and running by 2014, or else they will have to participate in the federal exchange.
O’Malley hopes to make Maryland a model for implementing the federal law. He also signed a bill that aligns Maryland law with federal consumer protections, including provisions that bar exclusions from insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
“We’re going to make health insurance more affordable in Maryland,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the administration’s chief advocate for the legislation. “We’re going to expand it to more and more Marylanders, and we’re going to achieve the goal which, at the end of the day, is really to improve the quality of health for all Marylanders.”
O’Malley appeared at the traditional day-after-session bill signing — the first of four such ceremonies — with House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert.
In addition to the health care package, the governor signed a measure that will limit Maryland employers from using a job applicant’s credit history when making hiring decisions. Applicant credit histories will only be able to be checked by employers who are hiring for a position in which credit histories are substantially job-related.
The last day of the legislative session that adjourned at midnight Monday was marked by passage of high-profile bills in the waning hours. Lawmakers passed a 50 percent increase in the sales tax on alcohol to boost school construction money next year by more than $47 million, while setting aside $15 million a year to aid the developmentally disabled. Lawmakers also approved a measure to provide millions of dollars in grants and loans to help horse racing tracks, a bill that faced obstacles with time running short.
O’Malley also touted passage of electricity reliability standards for utilities and a new prescription drug monitoring program as a tool to reduce drug abuse that has been on the rise in Maryland.
Miiller, who has presided over the Senate for 25 years, said he thought the session closed about as well as he’s ever seen one end.
“Nothing that was ready for prime time did not get done,” Miller said.
The Senate president also noted prominent bills backed by the governor that weren’t ready for prime time — at least in the eyes of the General Assembly. Still, Miller said he expected the complicated legislation to find approval in the future.
The bills referred to study included O’Malley’s proposal to develop offshore wind power and legislation to fight pollution from septic tanks.
“We’re going to get there,” Miller said, referring to offshore wind development. “It has to get done.”
Miller also said O’Malley’s push to restrict septic tanks at new developments was a worthy but ambitious goal that will take more work.
The governor said he plans to keep working on the proposals in the interim.
“We’re on a journey here, folks,” O’Malley said. “There are issues like renewable energy and like the manner in which we use the land and the air and the water resources of this finite space, and those issues aren’t going away — but then neither are we.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)