Speed-limit bill hits the fast track in Senate panel
A bill that would raise the speed limit on about 165 miles of Maryland interstate was approved by a key Senate committee yesterday, along with some amendments that Gov. William Donald Schaefer says may make the bill acceptable to him.
Schaefer initially had said he would veto any increase in the 55-mph speed limit, citing concerns over safety and fuel consumption.
But a compromise on the issue would allow for the State Highway Administration to raise the speed limits on certain rural stretches of expressway to 65 mph as part of a pilot project.
An aide to Schaefer said the governor would consider such an approach after discussing it with law enforcement officials.
State lawmakers have reached a tentative agreement on a bill that would allow testimony about so-called "battered-spouse syndrome" to become part of the official court record in Maryland.
The bill would make it easier for women charged with killing or assaulting their husbands or boyfriends to introduce evidence of abuse at a trial. The measure would allow judges to accept evidence of "battered-spouse syndrome," a condition similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome.
House and Senate negotiators tentatively decided yesterday to accept a version of the bill passed earlier by the House, said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Balto. Co.
Stone said the agreement, which was expected to be formally accepted today, calls for accepting most of the House's bill, including the definition of a battered spouse. The Senate had deleted that definition from the bill, saying only that abuse could be considered by a judge in sentencing.
Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore, the senior member of the negotiating committee, said he was willing to go along with the agreement, even though he said existing law allows testimony about the syndrome to be entered in a trial.
The House of Delegates has joined the Senate in approving what supporters say would be the most far-reaching tree-protection bill in the nation.
Differences in the two versions still must be resolved before the bill can be sent to Governor Schaefer, who made it part of his legislative program.
By a vote of 121-14, the House yesterday passed legislation that would require developers to plant some trees in exchange for trees they remove. The bill also would mandate the planting of trees on development sites where few or no trees existed initially.
The House bill, a weaker version of one passed by the Senate, now goes to the Senate, which can accept it or negotiate a compromise.
PAC LIMITS STAY HIGH
A campaign finance reform bill has won overwhelming approval from the Senate, but it contains higher limits on contributions from political action committees than were approved by the House of Delegates.
The Senate bill sailed through yesterday, 46-1, after attempts failed to lower the overall limit on PAC contributions to local candidates from $8,000 to $4,000. The Senate voted 18-29 to reject the lower limit. Because the House bill contains the lower limit, the differences will have to be resolved in conference committee.
The lone dissenter was Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, who called the measure "a bill that was forced upon us by a bunch of goody-goody two-shoes and the media."
The $8,000 limit had been set in the original version of the bill, but the House last month lowered it to $4,000. There are currently no limits on PAC contributions in Maryland.
SECESSION BILL GAINS
A bill that would allow a significant part of South Baltimore to be annexed into Anne Arundel County was approved by a Senate committee yesterday, but only after the bill was weakened by amendments.
The bill would allow about 14,000 residents of the Curtis Bay, Fairfield and Brooklyn areas to vote in referendum on whether they want to leave the city.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7-4 in favor of the measure, which the city opposes. But an amendment by Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, omitted any reference to a referendum. Instead, the bill calls for a task force appointed by the chief executives of the city and county to study what such an annexation would cost and to report its findings on Dec. 1.
This would prevent the annexation from occurring next year, but would help Anne Arundel County determine the costs of adopting the new region, Jimeno said. He said the annexation could cost up to $20 million, according to a rough estimate he has made.
Sen. John A. Pica, D-City, who opposes the bill, amended it to make the affected areas include all of the 24th and 25th wards, including the home of the bill's sponsor, Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-City. The bill initially covered only precincts 14 through 21 of Ward 25.
Committee members predicted the bill would die on the Senate floor or in the House because of the short time remaining before the General Assembly adjourns Monday.