Out-of-touch senator

February 11, 1992

Four pieces of progressive legislation in Annapolis are in grave jeopardy because of the intransigent attitude of one state senator, Walter Baker of Cecil County. Bills on helmets for motorcyclists, firearms safety, assault weapons and domestic violence all are threatened by Mr. Baker's misguided conservatism, which is sadly out of touch with the 1990s.

These are sensible bills designed to ensure the safety of Marylanders. They are the kinds of measures a smart-thinking conservative could support. But not Mr. Baker, who is chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

He's given mixed signals on the motorcycle helmet bill, which would save the state $1.2 million in medical expenses run up by injured motorcyclists who refuse to wear helmets. The House approved the bill by a wide margin. It is the equivalent of requiring automobile drivers to wear safety belts. A recent federal study showed that 69 lives could have been saved in a six-year period in Maryland had those cyclists been wearing helmets.

This is a dollars and (common)sense bill. Surely Mr. Baker can see that. The pleas of motorcyclists who would rather take their chances by riding helmetless should be ignored. It is a safety issue.

So are the two weapons bills. One measure would require gun owners to keep loaded firearms inaccessible to minors. It would force some unthinking gun owners to be more responsible when they store their weapons. Nine children have been shot or killed in Maryland in the last year by loaded firearms that hadn't been properly secured. This needless slaughter can and should be avoided. But Mr. Baker apparently is opposed to steps to protect kids from loaded weapons.

On assault weapons, Mr. Baker isn't even willing to discuss a compromise to outlaw new purchases of easily concealed assault pistols that are alarming law-enforcement officials. The proliferation of these deadly weapons favored by criminals must be stopped. Surely Mr. Baker can see that.

Even more unfathomable is Mr. Baker's opposition to a domestic violence bill that would give women legal protection from their abusive boyfriends. Maryland's statute is the weakest in the nation. Some 70 women have been killed in the past year by their husbands or boyfriends. Can't Mr. Baker see the rationale for strengthening the state's inadequate domestic violence law?

Mr. Baker has an obligation as a committee chairman to take a statewide perspective on these measures. These are carefully thought-out proposals with broad support. Mr. Baker should not play the role of legislative obstructionist. He should play a positive and constructive role on legislation that is clearly needed to make Maryland a safer state.

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