Blog Category - Center Maryland - Maryland’s leading source of aggregated and original news and opinion on government, politics, business and more. Sat, 21 Apr 2018 17:25:53 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Joseph (Jay) A. Schwartz, III: Senate Bill 30 ‒ The Pundits and Perhaps the Most Extraordinary Vote In General Assembly History The just concluded General Assembly Session was one that none of the pundits saw coming. So they said: It is an election year; there will be a lot of bills filed but nothing of substance will be enacted; partisan wrangling will be the order of the day; blah, blah, blah.

But here’s what happened. It was a remarkably bipartisan 90 days where the Governor and President Miller and Speaker Busch found a way (1) to shore up the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange in spite of efforts to undo Obamacare in Washington, (2) secured an agreement with Virginia and the District of Columbia for dedicated Metro funding which had been argued about for years, (3) agreed on an historic package of tax incentives for the potential Amazon headquarters in Montgomery County, (4) compromised on an omnibus crime package designed to assist law enforcement in Baltimore, (5) changed the school funding/tax formula to help Baltimore (6) resolved all controversies surrounding the medical marijuana rollout and (7) agreed on a school safety bill after the school shooting in Southern Maryland.

Winner/Loser: According to The Baltimore Sun, Governor Hogan was the primary winner and the primary loser was Comptroller Franchot. Franchot is so angry that he has pledged to go door to door in President Miller’s district in order to defeat him and will also work to defeat Speaker Busch. Perhaps Comptroller Franchot is as popular and effective as he believes and will turn the tide against the Presiding Officers. I suspect Vegas will not like his odds.

There were over 3,000 bills filed in the 2018 session. Newspapers like The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post covered perhaps 20 to 25 of these bills. The other 3,000 were largely just known to the proponents and opponents of the bills.

However, perhaps the most interesting story about the other 3,000 bills has to do with Senate Bill 30 which featured a fight between the plaintiffs’ malpractice lawyers and the doctors and hospitals they sue. This is a “tribal fight” and, while rarely reported in the general press, is more typical of the “fights” that occur over most of the bills filed the General Assembly.

From 1975 to 2015, I was an active lobbyist in the General Assembly. For the last three years I have watched the activity over the Internet generally from my winter quarters in South Carolina.

Senate Bill 30 had one of the most remarkable odysseys that I have seen in the 41 years that I was actively involved and the last 3 years when I have been an interested observer. Its fate was not decided until approximately 10 minutes prior to the witching hour of midnight on “sine die,” the last day of the 90 day session.

The vote on the House floor was remarkable. The Conference Committee Report was voted down by a 41-89 vote, probably the most decisive rejection of a Conference Committee Report in General Assembly history.

99% plus of Conference Committee Reports, even controversial ones, are passed. A Conference Committee Report is a “compromise” forged by a committee of 3 Senators and 3 Delegates to resolve differences between the Senate and House bills on the same subject.

Senate Bill 30 sought to repeal a 1986 law which disallowed professional expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases by stating the witness may not spend more than 20% of his or her time as an expert witness. The notion was that the malpractice crisis in the mid-1980s was partially caused by these expert witnesses for hire who didn’t treat actual patients.

There is a cottage industry of companies which will secure the services of a medical “expert” for any type of malpractice case. Google the term “professional medical experts” and you will be introduced to these companies. In many cases, these “medical experts” do not see patients and yet are keen to testify against doctors who do.

Why was I watching Senate Bill 30? Because between 1993 and 2015 I was the principal lobbyist for the doctors and would routinely fight proposals like Senate Bill 30. And even though I was no longer involved, my former firm and my former partners continue to represent MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi).

Senate Bill 30 was inspired by the Maryland Association for Justice (once more aptly named the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association) and opposed by MedChi and Maryland hospitals. Until 10 minutes of midnight it appeared that the trial lawyers had the whip hand. Their proposal to repeal the 20% rule had cleared the Senate and needed only a confirming vote in the House of Delegates and the 3 House conferees were agreeing to the same thing that the Senate had just passed.

Trial lawyers had descended in force on Sine Die Monday and were camped out in legislative offices and in the State House buttonholing every Senator and Delegate. A furious lobbying effort led by Gene Ransom, the CEO of MedChi, and Steve Wise, MedChi’s outside lobbyist, resulted in the lopsided 41 to 89 victory.

Faced with the trial lawyer presence, Ransom and Wise organized a counteroffensive and coordinated an impressive array of lobbyists including Bruce Bereano and Pegeen Townsend representing MedStar, Donna Jacobs representing the University of Maryland, Neal Karkhanis and Delora Sanchez on behalf of the Maryland Hospital Association, Martha Nathanson on behalf of LifeBridge, Tom Lewis on behalf of Hopkins, Barbara Brocato for the Anesthesiologists and Teresa Healey-Conway on behalf of the Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Howard County Medical Societies. But the coup de grâce came when Ransom unleashed the 8,000 member doctors of MedChi on Saturday night who then inundated the General Assembly members with thousands of emails, texts and phone calls.

Anyone who has tried to predict the outcome of the vote in the House of Delegates (141 members) on the final day of the legislative session when deals and counter deals are being made by the minute knows that their counting may be far off. Right before the vote, it was delayed for 10 minutes and, apparently, the proponents of the bill thought they had the votes. As it turned out, they were 30 votes short. Ransom and Wise were hoping for 70 votes; they got 89.

How does this happen? It happens when the House Speaker lets it be known that everyone is free to vote their own conscience rather than the normal message that a Conference Committee Report is sacrosanct.

I am partial to Ransom and Wise, my former client and my former partner; but not so partial that I would praise them unless they deserved it. And deserve it they do: this was perhaps the most decisive drubbing of a Conference Committee Report in General Assembly history.

It had the added benefit of preserving a Maryland law which has kept unmeritorious medical malpractice suits from being filed. That law has kept smooth talking and professional medical “experts” out of Maryland courtrooms.

So the “tribal fight” between lawyers and doctors ended in a surprising doctor victory, proving, as Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”

Once again, the pundits got it wrong.

chafukay [AT] centrosync [DOT] com (Site Admin) Blog Mon, 16 Apr 2018 15:51:03 -0400
Tami Howie: Protecting Innovation Protects Patients and Our Economy Innovation is at the heart of Maryland’s economy and the wellbeing of patients in our state. New, groundbreaking cures and treatments save and extend the lives of patients, pushing the bounds of modern medicine, for the benefit of all. Innovative companies are able to leverage Maryland’s combination of technology know-how, business-friendly climate, and highly-educated, highly-skilled workforce to produce these cures and provide hundreds of thousands of Marylanders with well-paying jobs.

However, despite all this, the Maryland General Assembly is currently debating drug pricing legislation that would threaten the innovative potential that makes these benefits possible. New regulations, SB 1023/HB 1194, would create a government-controlled commission with broad leeway to influence drug prices and increase burdensome reporting requirements adding yet another layer of complexity to drug manufacturing.

In so doing, it creates new hoops to jump through for manufacturers to simply go about their business. It risks innovation by undercutting the incentive for the creation of new drugs, that, on average, take 10 years and cost $2.6 billion to produce.

Maryland’s innovation and the companies who contribute to it should be hailed as a success story. Maryland is home to more than 2,500 life sciences companies that contribute nearly $18 billion toward our state’s GDP. Our state has more than 70 federal labs and is the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The biotechnology industry alone employs 34,000 Marylanders. As a result, Maryland is among the country’s leaders in state-wide innovation and entrepreneurship according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Undercutting innovation threatens not only this status, but all of the organizations who benefit from it, and all of the well-paying jobs that they produce.

And in the end, the patients who rely on these innovative medicines – and future cures to come – are the ones who are punished. These patients will see their prices increase as fewer and fewer cures are produced with lessening competition among our state’s best and brightest. In the worst cases, they could see a loss of access to certain drugs all-together, forcing them to cross state lines simply to get the medications they need to get through the day.

Maryland’s General Assembly should reject this legislation, as it will do the exact opposite of what it intends: drive drug prices higher, not lower, all while hurting the innovative spirit that produces critical cures for patients.

The increasing cost of health care is a pressing concern for all Marylanders, and one all health care stakeholders need to address. The Maryland Tech Council supports policies to address these rising costs in ways that are patient-centric and promote access; the problem with SB 1023/HB 1194 is that it does neither.

Rather than attempting a comprehensive approach, working with various stakeholders to determine the true roots of ballooning health care costs, this bill myopically and inaccurately targets drug producers alone. It fails to account for the outsize role that insurers, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and other middlemen play in setting drug prices. It fails to account for the true dynamics of a complicated, interconnected health care system, with a wide array of stakeholders possessing competing interests. 

If elected officials want to honestly and sincerely grapple with health care costs, they should examine approaches that are holistic, ensure access to Maryland patients and protect the innovation economy that helps them live longer, healthier and happier lives. Doing so requires that they reject misguided regulations like SB 1023/HB 1194.

Tami Howie is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maryland Tech Council, a community of more than 600 industry-leading technology firms and organizations

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Wed, 28 Mar 2018 12:24:00 -0400
ERIC DEAN: Promote Policies that Nurture Innovation and Jobs to Produce Cures The Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association (PILMA), a coalition of companies in the biopharmaceutical industry and building construction trades unions, is committed to dual goals of fostering innovation of life-saving cures and securing high-quality union construction jobs.

As Chairman of PILMA, I’m invested in the issues that are of importance to our biopharmaceutical industry partners and customers, to the extent that they are of importance and have a connection to the livelihoods of our members and their families. As our industry partners remain healthy, their investment in research and manufacturing facilities – to a very large extent built by our members – grows as well. 

Last month, the Washington Post wrote about proposed legislation in the Maryland legislature that would “create a commission to decide the maximum amount that health plans, pharmacies and state programs could shell out for the most expensive brand-name and patented medications.”

This so-called transparency legislation is being proposed in a number of states throughout the country, but the Maryland bill is the most egregious of any put in print. This measure essentially caps growth of businesses in the state. This creates a toxic environment for the biopharmaceutical industry that is not only anti-business but anti-jobs. If profits are capped, there is less incentive to discover new medicines, investment in new facilities dries up and jobs are lost.

The biopharmaceutical industry is a major economic driver in Maryland. In 2015, it provided over 24,000 direct jobs in the state and another 87,000 indirect jobs. Our partners in the biopharmaceutical industry depend on union labor to build state-of-the-art research and manufacturing facilities to rigorous standards. If this bill is passed, the effects on the building and construction trade unions would be significant both immediately and in the long term.

Here’s why – the building trades unions invest over $1 billion each year in apprenticeship training programs where members learn cutting-edge techniques to be the safest, most productive and highest skilled workers in the world. Behind every apprenticeship there must be a job supporting it. Apprentices earn while they learn, graduate debt free and all this is done using no taxpayer money. Without the promise of jobs provided by industries like the pharmaceutical industry, the program would not exist.

Aside from the loss of jobs, this legislation has other unintended consequences. The Federal Trade Commission has determined that the disclosure of this type of sensitive information could disrupt competitive forces within the industry, leading to price increases and medicine shortages. To make matters worse, there is nothing in the legislation that would prevent a company from being required to reveal confidential contractor bids, providing a roadmap for out of state, non-union, low cost contractors to underbid skilled union craft contractors.  

Several good ideas have been proposed to control cost and increase choice and access to medicines – but this transparency bill is not one of them. In New Jersey, state Senator Steve Sweeney (an International Vice President of the Ironworkers Union) saved the state an estimated $1.5 billion by creating a competitive bidding process for Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) to win the state’s healthcare business. In Maryland, another proposed policy is eliminating the gag rule, which prohibits pharmacists from telling patients when a medicine would be cheaper by paying out-of-pocket and not going through insurance. This is an unacceptable, opaque policy that allows PBMs to pad their pockets when patients overpay at the pharmacy counter. There are systematic problems with third parties in the healthcare system that through reform, can result in direct savings for patients.

We all want laws that help protect our access to good and affordable healthcare, but this so-called transparency legislation is a failed approach at legislating. While it makes for good politics, it is bad policy. Of the three states which have passed similar legislation, two have been mired in litigation, costing state and taxpayer dollars.

It takes an average of 10 years and $2.6 billion to bring a drug to market. Without safeguards in place to protect this type of confidential information that promotes competition, the industry would lose critical incentives to discover life-saving cures and treatments. As a result, capital investment in research and manufacturing facilities that provide millions of jobs for working families could become at risk. 

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Wed, 28 Mar 2018 01:19:09 -0400
Tami Howie: Only Congress Can Regulate the Internet It’s a no-brainer to support protecting the rights of consumers to unfettered access to the wide-ranging services and sites offered on the internet. But, similarly, states like Maryland must ensure that the robust internet infrastructure that fuels our digital economy continues to advance and make Maryland an attractive place to do business.

There is a way to accomplish both, but the current furor among advocacy groups, state legislators and governors seeking to impose state-by-state solutions, some of which are inconsistent with other state solutions, is not the best approach. While some states have chosen a “go-it-alone” approach, others like Virginia, understand that regulating the internet on a state-by-state basis is not the best policy approach -- particularly as is relates to their state’s economic competitiveness in a digital age that promises such things as automated vehicles, telemedicine, smart cities, and 5G technology.

In Maryland, four different bills in the General Assembly would prevent the State of Maryland from doing business with any internet service provider that does not agree to a laundry list of new state regulations that attempt to protect consumers’ online experience. This is a noble objective intended to pressure internet providers to continue providing consumers unfettered access to internet content and services.

However, such local measures cannot solve this concern. Only Congress can step in and fully protect consumers by developing a framework that regulates the entire Internet industry in a comprehensive, federal manner.

While all the state actions to date may be well intended, all of them miss a fundamental point: The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause clearly gives Congress the sole right to regulate interstate commerce.

Given that internet service is an inherently interstate (and often international) service that continually passes across numerous state borders, the power to regulate internet activity lies on Capitol Hill.

Imagine the confusion if Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware took different approaches to regulating internet service. How would an internet service provider comply with three different approaches for what is essentially the same service in each state? We’d have a mid-Atlantic regional mess to sort out with no one state in a position to impose its will on the others. Virginia has already rejected this approach, but let’s hope lawmakers in Maryland come to the same conclusion.

We have a federal system to regulate interstate commerce for all the states and the internet clearly falls into that category.

As the FCC has made clear, “[A]llowing state or local regulation of broadband Internet access service could impair the provision of such service by requiring each ISP to comply with a patchwork of separate and potentially conflicting requirements across all of the different jurisdictions in which it operates.” That is why the FCC expressly preempted “any state or local measures” – whether legislation, regulation, or litigation – that would “effectively impose rules or requirements that [it] repealed or decided to refrain from imposing . . . or that would impose more stringent requirements for any aspect of broadband service.”

There are, though, two steps state officials can take, one that might provide a short-term solution to protecting consumers and the other that would provide a final solution once and for all.

First, 22 state attorneys general, including Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, have joined advocacy groups and technology companies in going to court to overturn the FCC’s December ruling. If successful in court, internet access service will return to being regulated as a telecommunications service under utility-style regulation, at least until the FCC again changes its mind based on how the political winds are blowing.

Second, state lawmakers and state governors can press their congressional delegations to stand up for consumer rights and pass a comprehensive law ensuring that consumers are protected throughout the internet ecosystem. The same net neutrality rules should apply to all. Congressional legislation is needed to permanently enshrine net neutrality protections for consumers into law and to provide ongoing certainty to ISPs and edge providers alike, regardless of which political party is in power.

Putting the heat on federal lawmakers in Congress is the only reasonable way to re-establish Internet consumer protections.

By Tami Howie.

Ms. Howie is the CEO of the Maryland Tech Council. The MD Tech Council is a member of the Maryland Innovation Coalition, which works to educate government officials about the importance of public policy that keeps up with changes in the economy, technology and innovative industries.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:03:06 -0400
MINISTER DUANE WILLIAMS, JR: Baltimore’s Baffling Ban Makes Take-Out Containers Criminal I'm from Baltimore. I'm a former Baltimore City Police Officer and currently an educator at a Baltimore City Public School, and for as long as I can remember, Baltimore has had a littering problem. In a single day, our famous Mr. Trash Wheel has collected as much as 38,000 pounds of trash from the Jones Falls Watershed. Instead of additional recycling and clean up efforts to combat this growing problem, especially in some of our most neglected neighbornoods, the Baltimore City Council has proposed a foam food container ban that brings with it a criminal penalty for restaurant owners who don’t comply. This legislation comes as the homicide rate in Baltimore continues to surge to an all-time high and the city continues to struggle to attract new residents. The city council must get their priorities straight: instead of adding costly and unnecessary criminal legislation to the books, it should focus on the real issues that matter to Baltimore.

The City of Baltimore should be doing everything it can to fix its problems, from relatively trivial issues like littering, to those most serious for our future. This includes rebuilding trust with minority communities, attracting new families and businesses, and forcefully addressing police brutality. A ban on foam containers, which many in Baltimore’s restaurant community, healthcare providers, and poorest residents oppose, is the wrong way to address these problems.

So, what is being banned? The city council voted to move forward with a bill to ban the use of food and drink containers made of polystyrene foam (what many know as Styrofoam) by all food service providers. The ban would be one of the harshest in the nation. In addition to making the use of foam containers a crime, there are zero exceptions for financial hardship, healthcare facilities, or service organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

Foam is an effective insulator and less expensive than other food packaging. This is especially important for local “mom and pop” restaurants, where profit margins are razor thin. Forcing them to pay more for packaging takes away money that could otherwise go to wages for their employees or to keep costs low for their customers. Minority-owned restaurants, along with food trucks are often the most reliant on take-out services and forcing them to use far more expensive containers could destroy their businesses.

In the past, even Baltimore City Council President Jack Young called foam container bans “anti-business” and has opposed the ban.

Speaking in an interview in support of the ban, Councilman John Bullock talked about the containers getting into the waterways, but then the video shows him taking a swig of water from a single-use plastic water bottle! The same type of water bottle that clogs up Baltimore’s waterways. I am sure that Councilman Bullock responsibly recycled his water bottle when he was finished with it, but that is exactly the point. Foam containers are also recyclable and rather than banning a product that so many small businesses in Baltimore count on, the city council should make recycling easier by encouraging recycling and eliminating littering through education, littering fines, municipal stormwater capture programs, and readily available public waste disposal options.

Don’t let the city council tell you that recycling is too hard, or that anti-littering campaigns are too expensive. Polystyrene items can be recycled and sold to companies that will turn the recycled plastic into picture frames, pens, and rulers. San Diego allows foam container recycling in its curbside program and the cost is covered by the amount it makes on other recycled items.

There is no excuse for a city that has paid nearly $12 million in settlements, judgements, and legal fees from over 100 instances of police brutality in the last five years to not be able to find the money to implement a curbside foam recycling program and an aggressive anti-littering campaign.

Baltimore is dealing with serious issues. ABC News stated that “Baltimore is the heroin capital of the United States.” Mayor Pugh said her administration is focused on reducing crime, boosting police recruits, and improving long-neglected neighborhoods. These are important goals and the city council should support them. Instead, they are focusing on a trivial issue to score political points that will ultimately hurt small businesses, raise prices for meals, and create more problems than they solve. Our city is at a major turning point and we need our leaders to focus on the right things. A ban that will hurt the community through unnecessary criminal legislation is a big step in the wrong direction.

- Minister Duane Williams, Jr.]]>
info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Mon, 12 Mar 2018 14:27:22 -0400