Public Health Bills That Address an Array of Challenges Pass in House

Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The House of Delegates passed several bills Friday designed to bolster the state’s public health system. Some measures were born of the COVID-19 pandemic, others address historic racial disparities in government services, and others simply add to existing state programs.

Most significantly, the House passed, by a 97-39 vote, House Bill 78, sponsored by Dels. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) and Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City), which would establish a Maryland Commission on Health Equity.

The commission, which would be staffed by the Maryland Department of Health, would be charged with establishing a health equity framework for specific medical examinations, provide advice on issues of racial, ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic health disparities; develop a comprehensive health equity plan addressing the social determinants of health; and set goals for achieving health equity in alignment with other statewide planning activities.

Companion legislation, from Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), passed the state Senate unanimously earlier this month.

Among the other public health bills that passed the House on Friday:

  • HB 28, also sponsored by Peña-Melnyk and Lewis, would require health professionals in Maryland to take implicit bias training as a condition of being issued a license to practice. The legislation also mandates funding levels for the state’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. The bill passed on a 99-36 vote. The cross-file, sponsored by Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), passed earlier this week in the Senate, 40-6.
  • HB 309, another Peña-Melnyk and Lewis measure, which passed 128-6 on Friday, sets out guidelines for the state to collect race and ethnicity data on health services and health care providers. The bill would also alter the way the state publishes its Health Care Disparities Policy Report Card. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Griffith, has had a hearing in the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, but has not advanced further.
  • HB 123, sponsored by Peña-Melnyk and passed unanimously, sets parameters for expanding the use of telehealth in the state. It also sets guidelines for Medicaid and private health insurers to pay for telehealth services. The equivalent Senate legislation, sponsored by Griffith, passed unanimously earlier this week.
  • HB 812, sponsored by Del. Bonnie L. Cullison (D-Montgomery), requires mental health referrals and certain services to be provided on non-emergency 2-1-1 calls. The bill, which passed unanimously Friday, was renamed earlier in the week in honor of Thomas Bloom Raskin, son of U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who died by suicide on Dec. 31. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), was heard in the Finance Committee but has not been voted out.

When the bill passed in the House late Friday morning, delegates cheered, in tribute to Raskin, a former member of the General Assembly, and his son.

[email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.