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Illegal drivers, charter districts and the bulb mystery

January 23, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley last week disputed a Jan. 13 Washington Post story that said his administration was developing a new, two-tiered system for driver's licenses - one for illegal immigrants, the other for those in the country legally.

That same day, O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said that system was only one of the options being considered.

The Herald-Mail conditionally endorsed the idea on Jan. 15, saying that it would make it easier to track those in the country illegally.

On Jan. 16, O'Malley rejected the two-tier plan, saying that he had decided the state would have to comply with new federal regulations that are part of the Real ID program.

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Under those rules, states must develop a driver's license that can be used in security-sensitive situations, such as boarding an airplane.

Here's the complicating factor: For years Maryland has allowed illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. And, as noted by Del. Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George's, in the Post's follow-up story on Jan. 16, some of those illegal immigrants have had children since arriving here.

Ramirez questioned how the state could deny parents the ability to drive their children, who are legal citizens by virtue of being born in the U.S.

O'Malley said that because the state has been one of the few in he U.S. to allow illegals to get driver's licenses, he feared that if the policy weren't changed, Maryland would become a magnet for undocumented immigrants.

One of the concerns raised in our editorial was that immigrants shouldn't get a pass on the requirement that they obtain insurance.

Of course, they wouldn't need it if they were driving a vehicle that they didn't own, such as a company truck. However, it's tough to imagine an owner letting someone without a license drive a business vehicle.

O'Malley acknowledged that the4 idea of people driving without a license and/or insurance was a concern, but said he and other governors had been backed into a corner by the federal government.

My thought: After years of doing little or nothing about the problem of illegal immigration, the president, in the last year of his administration, is doing what governments always do - hand a mandate to smaller, less powerful jurisdictions and let them deal with any problems that result.

One certain result - the criminals that produce things such as false birth certificates, etc., will have a ready market for their products.

Washington County's proposed home rule charter will be debated next Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

If you haven't paid much attention up until now, this is a good chance to learn about the document and what it would change.

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is "Why didn't the charter board go with the idea of districts?"

The answer is that because of the U.S. Supreme Court's one-man, one vote rulings of the 1960s, districts have to contain an equal number of people.

Since most of the area's population is in Hagerstown or its suburbs, the districts would have to include part of that area. That would mean a larger percentage of the county council could be from the Hagerstown area.

It would be easier to make this point if the charter board could show a map of what the proposed districts could look like.

County planners, who have census data in their mapping system, should be able to produce such a map, though whether it could be ready in time is another question.

The key issue for me is not districts, but whether citizens are ready to pay more attention to county government.

Right now, it's easy to ask for a "do over" from the county's General Assembly delegation if the commissioners foul up something.

When the commissioners - the county council, really - are the last word, citizens had better pay more attention to those they elect.Not everyone who is well-known or a nice person will make a good elected official.

If you're the management at Allegheny Power, what do you do to rebuild the firm's image after its disastrous light-bulb distribution?

Designating a sacrificial lamb would be an obvious move, but it's a little bit late for this. The company's first apology, from Todd Meyers, blamed unclear language on the customer literature for creating the impression that the energy-saving bulbs were free.

In an attempt at a save, Meyers said that if everyone used the bulbs as intended, the company would lose $13 million in power sales.

The bulbs were more costly than if bought at a store, Meyers said, because it cost money to ship them.

So here's where I'm still confused: If you're doing customers a big favor, why not announce it ahead of time, send customers a coupon for two free bulbs and contract with Lowe's, Home Depot or another chain to redeem them?

Would everyone follow through and get their bulbs? No, but I suspect most people are like me. I vaguely remember the bulbs arriving, but then they got swept up in the Christmas clean-up and I'll be darned if I can find them now.

Correction



In my Sunday, Jan. 20, column on Maryland and the death penalty, I mistakenly attributed a statement about death-row inmates volunteering for execution to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The quote should have been attributed to Frederick C. Millett, whose Web site is entitled "End The Death Penalty Now."

I apologize for the error.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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