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Correctional officer prevails in legislature

April 04, 2001

Correctional officer prevails in legislature



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Nelson E. Hartman Jr. of Hagerstown was shocked last year when Maryland State Police rejected his application to open a security agency.

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Who better to run a security operation, he figured, than a former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant with two years of experience as a police officer and 15 years in corrections.

On top of that, Hartman, who has an associate's degree in criminal justice, has spent the last five years training other prison guards.

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But there was one problem. His experience didn't fall into any of the four categories the state requires for a security agency license: Five years as a police officer, five years as a private detective, five years as a fire investigator, or three years in another type of investigative work.

"It kind of upset me," said Hartman, 40.

Hartman didn't let the matter rest. He went to state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who filed legislation to add a new category of experience - five years as a correctional officer supervisor.

The bill passed the Maryland General Assembly this week and is awaiting Gov. Parris Glendening's signature.

Munson said Hartman's idea made sense since security is a correctional officer's main duty. The legislature agreed, passing the bill unanimously in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

Although the law will apply only to a small number of people, it will be of particular interest to the correctional officers working at the prison complex south of Hagerstown who sometimes start second careers when they're eligible for retirement after 20 years on the job.

Hartman hasn't decided whether to pursue the business venture when the law takes effect Oct. 1. He can retire at any time because his experience in the military and law enforcement count toward his service.

"I was looking out for the welfare of all correctional officers in the state of Maryland. I'm hoping that it helps somebody else," Hartman said.

Hartman said his coworkers and friends discouraged him from pursuing the legislation because they assumed it was doomed. More than 2,200 bills are filed each year, and less than one-third pass.

Hartman gave it his best shot, in part to offer a lesson to his three children: Nelson C. Hartman, 15, Bruce Hartman, 11, and Hunter Hartman, 4.

"Unless you try, you're a loser to start with," he said.

At Munson's request, Hartman testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee earlier this session, which was a little intimidating at first.

"I'm in front of people all day, all the time, but when I had to go in front of the Senate I was a little nervous. It seemed like it came together. I was talking about a subject that I know," he said.

When legislators discussed the bill, they considered limiting the experience to correctional officer lieutenants to appease concerns from a security guard organization. Local lawmakers persuaded them to pass the bill untouched.

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