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'Unmasking' bill killed in House committee

February 29, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland House of Delegates committee has killed legislation a local lawmaker had hoped would unmask the Ku Klux Klan.

"We're disappointed, obviously, but after the hearing not too surprised," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Hecht wanted to make it a crime to wear a hood or mask during a public demonstration. The bill contained exceptions for groups such as trick-or-treaters and sports teams.

Hecht said she could tell the proposal was in trouble from the questions she fielded from members of the Judiciary Committee during a hearing last week.

"They 'what-if' it to death because it starts creating all these doubts," she said.

The vote against the bill was 15 to 5.

One committee member told her that members thought the problem was already addressed by current law, which prevents gatherings by groups who incite violence.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the Maryland Jewish Alliance saw the bill as a threat to free speech.

Protesters, no matter how repugnant their views, should have the right to conceal their identity, the civil rights groups testified.

No Klan members testified about the legislation.

The idea for the bill came from Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, who modeled it after similar legislation in other states that has been upheld by higher courts.

Hecht endorsed the effort in part to help Frederick County overcome its reputation for being a hotbed of Klan activity, she said.

The proposal is still alive in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but its chances of becoming law this year are now slim.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who serves on judicial proceedings, said the bill appeared to hurt the very groups it was trying to protect.

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