ANNAPOLIS – Legislation intended to protect Maryland in the face of a major terrorist attack were the first bills Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed into law Tuesday.
“We all hope we never have to use any of these powers,” Glendening said. “If an event were to occur, we are far better prepared than we would have been before today.”
A bill creating sweeping emergency powers for the governor’s office and banning access to public records in some instances, were among the six so-called anti-terrorism bills signed by Glendening.
The General Assembly sifted through dozens of bills introduced to combat terrorism this session in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“Obviously Sept. 11 changed so much in this country in so many different ways,” Glendening said of the need for new laws.
Deciding which laws to sign without abridging important freedoms would be a balancing act, he said. Lawmakers faced the same difficult decisions during their closing session late Monday night.
They cut deals on the last of the anti-terrorism bills just before adjourning. Among them was an agreement to allow police to transfer wiretaps to different phones used by a suspect rather than a single phone line. The so-called “roving wiretaps” are necessary to follow cellular phone calls, proponents said.
Most of the anti-terrorism proposals were accepted by civil libertarians after some of the broader restrictions were killed.
Among the bills that died was a bill to make it more difficult for non-U.S. citizens to renew a driver’s license. The Motor Vehicle Administration asked for the legislation to link a person’s license to their passport or visa expiration date.
Civil libertarians argued the bill would negatively affect law-abiding Marylanders. Renewing passports and visas could leave a gap that would require them to give up their driver’s license, they said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland worked with the Governor’s Office to alleviate major concerns about the bill enhancing the governor’s health emergency powers. The group was satisfied after more than a dozen amendments were tacked on including one giving people the right to refuse immunizations.
Lawmakers also struck contentious provisions that would have made the act of terrorism – coercing or intimidating a civilian population or government agency – a felony. A bill making harboring a terrorist a crime of violence was also killed.
Some lawmakers said the compromises and cuts made to push the bills through the General Assembly went too far in weakening the bills.
“We have a long way to go,” said House Judiciary Committee member Delegate Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George’s. “We got very little but we did get some. It is a beginning.”
Many of the bills signed Tuesday were voted on early in the session and introduced by the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce appointed by Glendening after the Sept. 11 attacks. Other bills passed by the General Assembly this week are still pending.
“Our fear was there were going to be all kinds of bills introduced that impeded on individual freedoms,” said Glendening, adding that balance had been achieved. “The Legislature took our anti- terrorism package and refined it and made it even better. “I can’t necessarily say that Maryland will be safer, but I can say if an event occurred we’d be more prepared.”
The bills signed by Glendening include the creation of the Maryland Security Council, a 15-member panel responsible for developing emergency management plans.
Another authorizes the governor to declare a catastrophic health emergency when lives are at imminent risk due to exposure to “deadly agents,” including anthrax, Ebola and smallpox.
A new agricultural law allows the Secretary of Agriculture to gain clearer authority to obtain a search warrant to inspect farms for violations of animal health laws in search of contagious livestock or poultry diseases.
In addition, certain open records related to public security are restricted and state law enforcement agencies are now able to unite in times of emergencies without regard to jurisdiction.
– 30 – CNS-4-9-02