Dental Clinic Bill Gains Steam but Loses Chunk of State Money

By Annapolis Notebook
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Senate bill that would improve access to public dental clinics in the state moved closer to final passage yesterday, but it no longer has the $6 million in state money that was originally in the legislation.

The bill was introduced before a 12-year-old homeless boy from Prince George's County died from a tooth infection that spread to his brain. Deamonte Driver never had regular dental care, in part because his mother could not find a dentist to treat children on Medicaid.

Lawmakers said that funding for the legislation, which would give grants to health-care centers providing dental care to the poor, had been complicated by the state's fiscal outlook.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Calvert), the bill's sponsor, said that he met with Health Secretary John M. Colmers and that both agreed that "in the event that there is some money, that money will be targeted where there is the greatest need."

-- Ovetta Wiggins

Bill on Fake Body Parts Appears Dead

House lawmakers have effectively killed a bill to outlaw outsized plastic testicles that truckers dangle from the trailer hitches of their pickups.

The House Rules Committee, which takes up legislation filed after the February deadline, declined to act on the truck bill at a meeting last week. "It simply didn't come up for a vote," Chairman Hattie N. Harrison (D-Baltimore) said. Which is a nice way of saying the bill will be stuck in her committee forever.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. (R-Allegany) said he proposed the bill as an expression of moral outrage at the giant fake anatomical parts on rural roadways in his Western Maryland district. First Amendment experts decried it, but Myers said his office received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls of support. The bill was heard around the world by way of the Internet and became a water-cooler conversation starter in Annapolis.

"I do think the bill completely took on a life of its own," Myers said yesterday. "We have movie ratings and V-chips, and I don't see why this doesn't fall into the same category."

-- Lisa Rein

Senators Take a Stand on Big Bang

When Miss Maryland received a resolution from the Senate congratulating her for winning her crown, the senators in attendance pressed their green buttons in support of the measure.

That is customary practice.

But a strange thing happened yesterday when Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) introduced John C. Mather, co-winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics.

Mather, who won the prize for his work at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt in providing the first tangible evidence that the big bang started the universe, received a resolution from the Senate for his work. He got his picture taken, as did all other resolution recipients before him.

But two senators -- Janet Greenip (R-Anne Arundel) and Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) -- declined to vote.

"I don't believe in the big-bang theory, and I'm not going to honor someone who does," Jacobs said after the session. "If I wanted to make a political statement, I would have voted no."

-- Ovetta Wiggins

Plan Would Reap Real Estate Funds

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) announced a plan yesterday to capture millions of dollars in tax revenue from big real estate businesses that benefit from a tax loophole.

The benefit is enjoyed by real estate investment trusts, which distribute income to shareholders and avoid federal and state taxes. Franchot estimated that the change could bring the state millions of dollars in revenue. He said his office will begin to audit companies to identify those taking the deduction.

-- Lisa Rein

Support Grows for Gang Crimes Bill

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) threw their support yesterday behind a bill to give state prosecutors greater latitude in charging gang members involved in crimes.

The Maryland Gang Prosecution Act of 2007 comes in response to rising gang violence, particularly in suburban areas.

"These criminal gangs use threats, coercion and intimidation to recruit kids as young as 12 to join them," Del. Mary-Dulany James (D-Harford) told the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill, supported by a majority of the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association, would allow prosecutors to introduce evidence to juries that individual crimes -- such as robberies, rapes and killings -- were orchestrated by gang leaders. Prosecutors could pursue not only those who committed a crime but also gang accomplices who helped plan it or carry it out. Under current state law, prosecutors cannot introduce evidence that a crime occurred as part of gang activity.

-- Lisa Rein

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