Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday signaled his support for a watered-down, bipartisan alternative to his plan to increase the number of charter schools in Maryland.

Ehrlich had threatened to veto the bill. But with his legislative agenda languishing and lawmakers scheduled to adjourn tomorrow, Ehrlich's administration is scrambling for a way to claim victory on at least one initiative.

Charter school proposals generally have been strongly opposed by teachers unions and school boards. There is just one of the alternative schools in the state. Ehrlich had hoped to remove a significant obstacle by effectively taking local school boards out of the business of approving charter schools.

Instead, the House and Senate passed bills that would allow boards to retain authority but would create an avenue of appeal to the State Board of Education. The General Assembly also gutted a measure in Ehrlich's proposal that would have forbidden charter school teachers from joining the state teachers union.

Lawmakers agreed on what sponsors say are relatively minor changes to the bill, offering Ehrlich a face-saving opportunity. In the case of schools taken over by the state, the State Board of Education would have authority to grant a charter.

Tougher Licensing Board Killed

The state's medical lobby has won significant concessions in a bill aimed at cracking down on bad doctors, and lawmakers are expected to approve the measure before adjourning tomorrow.

Passing the legislation is crucial because the board that licenses and regulates doctors in Maryland would otherwise be dissolved. Current law "sunsets" certain agencies, giving them limited life spans that lawmakers must periodically extend. The Board of Physician Quality Assurance's lifespan expires soon.

Lawmakers had hoped to make significant changes to a system that some say does little to punish bad doctors. The Federation of State Medical Boards found in a 2000 study that only 10 states disciplined a lower percentage of their licensed doctors than Maryland. Some lawmakers, however, argue that Maryland's board uses a much higher standard of proof than most state boards.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) had wanted to lower the standard of proof from "clear and convincing" evidence of wrongdoing to a "preponderance of evidence" standard.

The Maryland State Medical Society agreed to the lower standard for most disciplinary cases, but the "clear and convincing" standard will be retained for cases involving alleged medical mistakes.

The House version also removes a provision from Hollinger's bill that would have listed on the state's Web site the names of doctors who had paid settlements of more than $150,000 on multiple malpractice lawsuits within a certain time frame. The medical society argued that the disclosure could hurt good doctors who are forced to settle malpractice claims because of bad lawyers or risk-averse insurers.

Abuse Complaint Extension Passes

The General Assembly yesterday gave final approval to a bill that gives victims of child sexual abuse more time to file civil suits against their perpetrators or institutions that protected them.

Current law allows victims of child abuse to file a civil lawsuit until they are 21, a deadline that some argued is too limiting for young adults who may be psychologically traumatized. The bill that lawmakers sent to the governor pushes the age limit to 25

The push for the change came in the wake of the Catholic Church's child sex abuse scandal, but the church led a successful push to beat back provisions that would have made the bill retroactive.

Speed Camera Bill Advances

Legislation giving cities and counties the authority to install speed cameras and collect fines up to $100 from pedal-to-the-metal motorists appears headed to the governor's desk.

After hours of debate, the House yesterday made some relatively minor changes to the bill and sent it back to the Senate. Senate sponsor Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery) said she is agreeable to the changes. The measure would allow cameras only in residential neighborhoods where posted speeds are at least 35 mph and in school zones. The state already allows red-light cameras in certain jurisdictions.

Yesterday, Ehrlich's chief lobbyist stopped short of saying the governor would veto the measure.

Republicans argue that the bill is little more than a way for localities to make money. But proponents say the cameras will improve pedestrian safety and free up police officers. The vote in the House was 99 to 47, a strong enough majority to override a possible veto. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure tomorrow.