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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |


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March 31, 2008

Hang ‘Em High, Just Not in Maryland!

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

As the 2008 General Assembly session starts to wind down, the issues are easier to define. The big revenue shortfall is the 800-pound gorilla, but there a whole bushel of other topics that have garnered the attention of the press corps.


Speed cameras have been a major issue, focusing attention on the issue of using technology to control driver behavior. Several years ago, red lights cameras were authorized in limited application throughout Maryland.


These red light cameras were supposed to be used sparingly to control traffic accidents at high-volume intersections. They work! In every situation where red light cameras have been deployed and advertised, accidents have been reduced.


There were serious constitutional issues raised during the debate over red light cameras.


1.)     Red light cameras deny an accused person to the right to face their accuser – the camera prints out a photo of your license plate, your car, and you, the driver, sitting behind the wheel as you drive through the red light. All pictures are nicely organized and reproduced in glorious high resolution. You cannot cross-examine the camera, though.

2.)     Red light cameras will be a revenue boondoggle, not a public safety priority. So far, the red light cameras are generating substantial new revenue for police agencies that are employing them. The fly in the ointment is the fact that the accidents are down.

3.)     Red light cameras will lead to speed cameras. Oops!


The bill that passed the House and Senate is an enabling bill whereby the jurisdictions who want them will have to go through a public process to get them. If my email inbox is an indicator, it could be a long time before we see speed cameras throughout Frederick County.


Speaker Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel) and his budget leaders passed an 11th hour change in a historic funding formula for community colleges. It almost got “snuck” through without any objection, but a few alert legislators (including yours truly) caught a sneaky maneuver to strike the language of a bill and replace with something completely different.


This bill, which began life as a way to charge for certain staff positions at Baltimore City Community College, magically morphed into a “maintenance of effort” mandate to county governments.


Currently, counties fund public schools systems using maintenance of effort formula that says that last year’s operating budget will be automatically funded as a minimum level for next year. Additionally, new student enrollments drive additional costs, as it should be.


In this bill, the same theory would be applied to our community colleges. Those counties that didn’t provide sufficient budget increases would face the loss of some state funding. Carroll and Dorchester were two counties singled out as facing major negative impacts from this change. Once it became obvious what was happening, the email networks came alive with warnings, alerts, and notifications.


An idea that looked like a sure thing at 2 P.M. turned sour by 5. The bill was special-ordered one day, facing the concerns of every delegate who had received an email from their own community college. That one day delay put the bill past the cross-over deadline, so the alert network may have one notch on its belt!


Another debacle dealt with arguably the most emotional and sensitive topic facing the General Assembly – the death penalty. Governor Martin O’Malley has failed to fulfill the oath he took when sworn in as governor – you know, that pesky ol’ “defend the Constitution and laws of Maryland, without partiality or prejudice” thing!


He refuses to order the death penalty to be carried out on any of the five current Death Row inmates; and he has also refused to develop the regulatory procedures needed to carry out a death sentence, even when the sentence was given by a duly impaneled jury.


His answer is to support a bill introduced by ultra liberal Del. Kathleen Dumais (D., Montgomery) to appoint a Commission to Study the Death Penalty in Maryland. The commission would supposedly look at all aspects of the death penalty, like:


-          Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent to violent crime?

-          Does it cost more to deal with a death sentence or a life sentence?

-          Does the death penalty reflect our evolving social values?

-          Are there racial or socio-economic disparities in death penalty cases?


You might think I’m kidding with that last one, but it’s actually in the bill. The only thing this commission will conclude is that the death penalty is unfair, racially biased, and not reflective of our evolving values. I really love that last one. Seems like maybe we’ve forgotten the interests of the victims in all of this, doesn’t it?


No, the liberals and Governor O’Malley thought of that, too. They’ve included three family members of someone victimized by serious crime. Those three people will join 16 others on the commission.


To demonstrate my skepticism, of the 19 total members, 12 of them, including the chairman of the new commission, will be appointed by Governor O’Malley. That’s right; the same guy, who used several hundred words in a February 2007 editorial letter in The Washington Post to tell us why he’d never support the death penalty, is responsible for appointing most of the members of a commission to study the death penalty.


Good luck with that!


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