Military service members and their families would qualify for in-state tuition rates at Maryland universities under an eleventh-hour amendment that narrowly passed the House of Delegates yesterday. The vote of 68 to 65 came after an intensely emotional debate, interrupted frequently with loud clapping and admonitions from House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) to be respectful.
The measure amends a bill that has passed the House and the Senate granting in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants who had graduated from Maryland high schools or attended school in the state for three years and provided an affidavit asserting their intentions to become U.S. citizens.
Out-of-state students at the University of Maryland at College Park pay nearly $10,000 more a year in tuition costs than in-state students do.
Similar laws have passed in California, Texas and Utah and are pending in eight other states.
But Del. Herbert H. McMillan (R-Anne Arundel) said the bill was "unfair," and he pushed the amendment to include the military.
"The United States of America is not a co-op. It's not a homeowners association where you're entitled to full benefits and membership when you get here," he said. "To extend this courtesy to people who are here illegally, if we can't extend it to the men and women of the military, something is wrong."
Del. Anne Healey (D-Prince George's) said the last-minute amendment may doom the bill. Other lawmakers, many heralding their ties to the military or their status as veterans, said that the bill may be a good one but that it deserves to be more fully examined with hearings next year.
A September survey found that military personnel in Maryland have nearly 16,000 dependents and college-age children. Many of those families, however, maintain their official residences and pay income taxes in other states, which can disqualify them from receiving in-state tuition rates.
McMillan had previously offered amendments to a similar House bill, both of which were rejected, that would have substituted the words "illegal alien" for immigrant and added that they were "in violation of federal law."
A vote on the bill, with McMillan's amendment, was delayed until today.
Breast-Feeding Protections Backed
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill yesterday that grants mothers the right to nurse their babies in public and makes clear that no one is to restrict or limit that right. The bill, which outlines the health benefits of breast-feeding to mothers and children, unanimously passed the Senate early last month. It now goes to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Although breast-feeding in public is not against the law in Maryland, many mothers say they have been harassed or asked to leave public places -- such as stores, shopping malls, libraries and restaurants -- when they attempted to breast-feed their babies.
Drunken-Driving Bills Easily Pass
The House yesterday passed two drunken-driving bills by large margins. One bill, approved by the Senate last month, now goes to Ehrlich's desk. It requires courts to send those convicted of alcohol- or drug-related driving offenses to treatment programs as a condition of probation. Current law gives courts that option.
A second bill passed yesterday would prohibit those arrested on drunken- or drugged-driving charges from driving for the next 12 hours. The Senate passed a similar bill last month, but because the House amended it, the measure returns to the Senate.
The bill is known as "John's Law" and is named for John Elliott, a Naval Academy graduate who was killed by a drunk driver in New Jersey.
The driver, who was also killed, had been arrested on a drunken-driving charge three hours earlier.
Several states and the District have similar provisions. With only four days left in the session, the fate of a bill to stiffen penalties for repeat offenders remains uncertain. The bill, which would mandate jail time and eliminate the option of community service, passed the Senate last week. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday but has not scheduled a vote.
Nurse Practitioners Bill Clears House
A bill that would allow consumers to choose certified nurse practitioners as their primary care physicians in an HMO passed the House yesterday. A similar bill unanimously passed the Senate last month, and the measure heads to the governor's desk.
Similar bills have been killed in committee since 1999. In 2001, the bill passed the Senate and House but was vetoed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).
Under the bill, nurse practitioners must provide services at the same location as their collaborating physicians, and the physician must provide continuing medical services, if needed.
Office visits to nurse practitioners are generally less expensive than doctor's visits. However, if they are unable to provide medical care, the referrals to physicians may be more costly.