By Jayson T. Blair and Mark Russell
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland lawmakers gearing up for the 1996 General Assembly session have already filed 87 bills tapping into such hot-button issues as crime, crabbing regulations, education and economic development.
Senators and delegates file early, when legislative staff who draft bills are more available, in order to give their colleagues more time to review their proposals.
Members of both houses once more are pushing to repeal the state’s tax on snacks sold through vending machines, arguing that it will protect Maryland jobs.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Caroll, wants to give tax credit to parents who send their children to private, instead of public schools.
On the House side, Del. John Arnick, D-Baltimore County, has proposed significant new limits on the types of crabs that can be harvested from the Chesapeake Bay. And Del. James Campbell, D- Baltimore, offers a measure to increase penalties for drunk drivers who cause injuries or deaths.
Ferguson has also introduced a bill giving judges the power to sentence some sex offenders to death. The measure would apply to anyone convicted of kidnapping and molesting a child under 16, whom he or she did not know.
“People like that can’t be rehabilitated,” Ferguson said of such random sex offenders.
He said the bill resulted from the 1994 abduction and molestation of a 6-year-old Montgomery County boy. “That was the driving force behind that bill,” Ferguson said. “That little boy.”
The proposal would bar judges from applying the death sentence to the victim’s acquaintances, such as babysitters, relatives or friends, in order to prevent further trauma to the child, Ferguson said.
Campbell introduced his drunk-driving bill on behalf of a prosecutors, who are without the power to charge drunk drivers with more than the driving offense, even if someone is hurt or killed.
The impetus was the case of Kim Boyer, a Jessup woman whose legs were crushed at a convenience store in 1993, Campbell said. Boyer was rammed while sitting in the trunk of her car in a 7-11 parking lot.
“The man wasn’t given a special sentence for a special injury that he caused,” Campbell said. “This bill will help expand the penalties.”
Campbell said the bill, defeated during the last session, had a “pretty good chance” of passage.
Other pre-filed crime bills would:
* eliminate pleas bargains in violent crimes.
* require criminal background checks on people who care for the elderly at nursing homes, hospices, day care centers and other facilities. NATURAL RESOURCES
Arnick wants to ban the purchase or sale of female crabs. Under his legislation, fines would go up to $2,000.
The delegate said he introduced the bill on behalf of state crabbers, who are concerned about the supply of crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. “Various watermen and state fishermen suggested this is a better way to save the crab population,” he said.
In another bill, Arnick wants to reduce from four to three inches the minimum keeping size of peeler blue crabs, which are crabs about to molt. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
With the backing of many business leaders, Sen. David Craig, R-Harford, and Dels. Henry Heller, D-Montgomery, and Rose Mary Bonsack, D-Harford, want to repeal Maryland’s “snack tax,” a sales tax on such items as potato chips, pretzels, pork rinds and popcorn sold through vending machines. A similar measure failed to pass last session.
In testimony before the state’s Joint Committee for Economic Development Issues during the interim, lawmakers heard that food companies had reduced operations in Maryland because of the tax.
Neighboring Virginia and Pennsylvania exempt most snack foods from their sales tax, and Delaware has no such tax.
Arnick, against the wishes of the governor, wants to eliminate the office of the lieutenant governor.
His bill would cut Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s 39 staff and $100,000 paycheck. Arnick said he had nothing personal against Townsend, but added, “the lieutenant governor has no responsibilities. All they do is collect a paycheck and drive around in their [state] car.”
Last year, Arnick attempted to merge the positions of lieutenant governor and secretary of state, but his bill died in a House committee. A previous attempt to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s job failed in 1983.
Dianna Rosborough, spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, objected to Arnick’s characterization of Townsend’s job. “The lieutenant governor is responsible for one of the governor’s top priorities — safe communities,” Rosborough said. “With her background in law, she has been able to take on that effort.”
More to the governor’s liking, Del. John Leopold, R-Anne Arundel, wants to change the beginning of a new governor’s term from the third to the first Wednesday in January. Leopold said the late start did not give the governor enough time to prepare for the session. Rosborough said that Glendening would support the measure. -30-