Updates: Fertility Coverage for Same-Sex Couples, Damage Awards Against Counties

By Rebecca Lessner, for MarylandReporter.com

Senators tried last-ditch efforts to change two hotly debated bills — a bill granting fertility treatment insurance coverage to same-sex couples and another that would give bigger civil awards to people harmed by local government employees — as the legislative session nears its close on Monday.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, tried to make a change on Friday to HB 838, “Coverage for Infertility Services,” even though an identical bill had already passed the Senate 37-10.

“All this amendment says is that we treat everyone equal,” said Simonaire, offering up an amendment to include heterosexual couples in coverage for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Sen. Catherine Pugh, floor leader of the bill’s Senate version by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, said that Simonaire’s amendment should be taken up next session, in the form of a new bill. She said this bill was intended to give same-sex couples the opportunity to get pregnant.

Already the cost of HB 383 is estimated to be at $6,000 per couple that takes advantage of the IVF benefits.

“It’s going to cost millions of dollars to implement the bill as is,” said Simonaire. “And it may cost a little more to include the heterosexuals who can’t produce the ingredients, however, at what point does it cost too much to remove discrimination?”

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore, chastised Simonaire for calling the bill discriminatory.

“We often have ‘clean-up’ bills,” said Kelley. “We have bills that are intended for good and you find some qualifier is needed, you’re bringing to attention a qualifier.”

Simonaire’s amendment failed 17-23, with the bill passing the Senate with a 32-14 vote.

Senators reject push from counties on tort claim award limits

Also on the equality playing field Friday morning was a local tort-claims bill, that has been gaining traction this past week.

Senators are attempting to raise the cap on legal settlements and awards when an agent of local government, such as a police officer, is sued. Currently Maryland’s tort-claims total award for an individual is capped at $200,000.

In an effort to bring the outdated, 1987 tort-claims law up to date, the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee is attempting to raise the cap to $500,000.

The Maryland Association of Counties sent out an alert to its members Thursday, urging them to contact their senators and oppose the bill.

Some senators believe the county’s insurance rate increase, an average 3% per $100,000, would be too heavy a burden for small towns to bear.

“This tries to take a little more of a tailored approach,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, offering up an amendment that he hoped would appease the counties.

Fergusons amendment applies the $300,000 cap increase to only “police brutality and death” related tort-claims, which he believes encompass the “most horrific cases.”

Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, believes the amendment would treat claims unequally.

“They would literally have to die, under your bill, to get the full amount,” said Zirkin. “But if they didn’t die and there’s gross negligence…and that person is sitting at Hopkins with $300,000 in medical bills, this amendment would say ‘$200,000 is on the county, $100,000 goes to you.”

Zirkin argued that when it comes to tort-claims, “picking and choosing” winners and losers is not fair practice.

“The person who’s injured, really doesn’t care at which level of negligence happened, they just care that they are now facing potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, or the loss of a loved one,” said Zirkin.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, worried about singling out police in the amendment.

“It shouldn’t just be the police, it should be anybody,” said Raskin.

The attempt to appease counties failed, and the amendment died with a divided 21-26 vote.

The bill received a 32-15 vote from the Senate and moves onto the House for final passage.

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