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Md. Hospital Deal Advances

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. considers the hospital takeover crucial.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. considers the hospital takeover crucial. (Rob Carr - AP)
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By Philip Rucker and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Maryland Senate advanced legislation yesterday authorizing an independent takeover of the ailing Prince George's County hospital system and revived an emergency measure to ban children's products containing lead as lawmakers sprinted toward adjournment Monday.

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In the House of Delegates, gay rights advocates scored two victories in their piece-by-piece pursuit of rights now provided only to married couples. A bill allowing domestic partners to make medical decisions for each other cleared the General Assembly and headed to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk for his signature. And delegates gave final passage, 86 to 47, to a measure extending some property ownership rights to same-sex couples.

The House also passed legislation that would make eligible for a state license a Columbia-based for-profit credit counseling company whose business practices are under review in a number of states. And the Senate voted to tighten regulations on shoreline development in environmentally sensitive coastal areas, a top priority for O'Malley (D).

With lawmakers in the homestretch of the 90-day legislative session, both chambers were scheduled to meet today for rare weekend floor sessions. The House could take action on repealing the state's new tax on computer services, and the Senate is expected to give final passage to the Prince George's hospital takeover.

"It's a very, very important bill to Prince George's County," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said. "We cannot fail them, and we will not fail them."

The Senate tentatively approved, 37 to 7, legislation that would establish an independent authority to take over the financially struggling hospital system, which the county owns. The bill reflects a long-sought agreement between the state and county.

But yesterday's action came over the objections of three of the eight senators from Prince George's. They voted against amendments to the bill that Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's) said could be a "deal-breaker."

Exum questioned the appointment process for the seven-member authority. Under the deal, three members would be appointed by the governor, three by the county and one by the county's Senate delegation. But the House amended the bill to make the seventh seat a joint appointment by the House speaker and Senate president.

Asked later why he voted against the bill, Exum told a reporter: "I don't have to explain my vote. My vote is what it says."

Miller said he would push the bill through the legislature before Monday's deadline.

"We need to get the county elected politicians out of the hospital business," Miller said.

The Senate held a long debate over a measure to ban jewelry, toys, furniture and other children's products with dangerously high levels of lead, which is toxic. The bill follows a year of high-profile recalls of toys made in China that were found to have too much lead.

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