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Ehrlich signs local bills into law

April 12, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed the first batch of local bills into law on Tuesday, but a relatively simple local bill was among the many that got lost in the closing hours of the General Assembly on Monday.

Unsuccessful negotiations between lawmakers and Ehrlich's office to reach an agreement to stave off double-digit electricity rate hikes for customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric drained time away from other pending legislation.

Though major bills to deal with sex offenders, particularly those who victimize children, were proposed both by Ehrlich and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, the bill that resulted got bogged down after Del. Anthony Brown, D-Prince George's and a candidate for lieutenant governor, persuaded the House to amend mandatory minimum sentences into it. Republicans argued that the so-called "Jessica's Law" should be considered separately, as proposed by Del. Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert/Charles/St. Mary's. Otherwise, they feared, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee known to oppose mandatory sentences would kill the whole bill.

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The question of mandatory minimums produced a heated argument Monday night between committee Chairman Brian Frosh and Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harrison on the Senate floor. Harris wanted to approve the bill with the minimum sentences.

"One time is too much when a 30-year-old is a sexual predator on a 10-year-old," he said.

Frosh argued that such cases would not be waived down to juvenile status if the perpetrator were younger than 18 - and that juveniles should not be subject to the 25-year minimum sentence. He wanted to specify that the law applied to adults who assaulted children.

Though Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller attempted to intervene, efforts to work out the differences failed before the midnight deadline.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who had pushed both for tougher sentences and tighter monitoring of sex offenders after release from prison, blamed Brown's attempt to marry the two for the bill's failure.

"It's very unfortunate in the waning moments that it didn't pass," Shank said. "Brown's maneuver to tie 'Jessica's Law' to the bill was partisan and blew up in his face, and I hold him accountable. It had been bipartisan until that point."

The bill's death also disturbed Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

"I can't believe that happened," he said. "Talk about one of the most important bills down here."

One local bill, which would have permitted fire company commanders to appoint up to 12 fire police per company, also failed in the last-minute frenzy. It required only a final vote by the full Senate to be sent to the governor for signing.

Except for a bill to study whether to elect Washington County Board of Education members by district, every other local bill was approved. Ehrlich signed five of them into law Tuesday, including:

  • Enabling legislation to hire more than one county attorney.

  • Legislation to authorize the county to accept certificates of guarantee for contractors to satisfy bonding requirements.

  • Authorization to change the address on the Discovery Station at Hagerstown Loan of 2001.

  • Authorization to amend the Community Based Regional Initiatives Loan of 2004 to alter the location of the Cumberland Valley Technology Center project.

  • Legislation to permit the sheriff to extend the probationary period for new deputies.
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