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Lawmakers fail to amend bill limiting transfers

March 13, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - State lawmakers failed Wednesday to amend legislation to bar correctional officers from being involuntarily transferred to prisons throughout the state - one day after they informally agreed to the measure.

In a rare tie vote, the Senate voted 23-23 on a measure to limit transfers to a 50-mile radius from an officer's existing facility, which effectively would have prevented involuntary reassignments for officers at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown. Without a majority, the amendment failed.

"We gave it our best shot," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who voted for the amendment.

At issue was a prison bill (S.B. 410) that had been opposed by correctional officers and union leaders who saw it as a threat to job security. They fear the legislation will prompt reassignments at the whim of the secretary of the Department Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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There are 1,328 correctional officers at the three prisons south of Hagerstown, according to state figures.

The amendment was seen as the answer to the officers' concerns. Because there is no other state prison facility within 50 miles of the Hagerstown complex, the amendment would have meant that no officer at the three prisons could have been transferred out of the area without his or her consent.

But several senators said the whole purpose of the bill is to give the secretary the power to make changes needed to improve the efficiency of the department. The amendment takes away that flexibility, they said.

"This is a bad amendment. This is a schizophrenic amendment," said Sen. Dacatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's.

Brian McDonnell, local representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has about 250 members at the prisons, said his membership was taken aback by the Senate vote.

"It's shocking to us, actually," McDonnell said.

Munson said while the 50-mile radius rule already is in practice as an unwritten rule in the prison system, there is no law or regulation that would prevent reassignments beyond 50 miles without an employee's consent.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the department, has said he will not involuntarily reassign an officer, Munson said.

"But Secretary Robinson is not going to be there forever. That's the problem," he said.

Munson said he will vote against the bill when it comes before the Senate for final approval, but he predicted it will easily pass. It would then go to the House of Delegates.

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