ANNAPOLIS — The support of top county elected officials and the Carroll legislative delegation was not enough to overcome state police opposition to a bill that would have benefited Carroll volunteer firefighters.
For the fourth consecutive year, the House Judiciary Committee has killed a bill that would have allowed designated "fire-police officers" to equip their personal vehicles with flashing lights. The red-and-white strobes would have been used only while the vehicle was stationary at accident or other emergency scenes.
The vote was 14-2, with six absences. Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, cast one of the votes in favor.
The bill was intended toprotect the safety of volunteer firefighters, who often park some distance away from accident or fire scenes to warn approaching motorists. The volunteers now use flares or car blinkers, which they say are often ineffective. The fire-police helpers secure the scene so policecan conduct investigations and handle other immediate concerns.
Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman wrote to the governor requesting his support and testified at the bill hearing. The county commissioners wrote to the committee chairman urging his support.
But the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services expressed concern that the volunteer firefighters would abuse the privilege and flash the lights en route to the scene. The agency also said the lights would confuse the public.
NO-TAX LEGISLATORS MEET
ANNAPOLIS -- Four Carroll legislators were among about 40 lawmakers who attended a meeting Thursday organized by a group billing itself as a "non-partisan ad hoc committee for a no tax increase budget."
Attending were Dels. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll; Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll; Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard; and Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore. All have advocated cutting the budget to eliminate the state's shortfall instead of raising or expanding any taxes.
The shortfall has been pegged officially at $1.2 billion for fiscal 1993, but some legislators say that figure is exaggerated because it assumes built-in increases.
Elliott sees the effortas signaling a rise in Republicans' influence.
"This is somethingwe haven't seen much before down here, the Democrats working with Republicans," said Elliott, who supports a House Republican Caucus planto balance the budget without tax increases. "Democrats always had the numbers so that they didn't have to work with Republicans."
Some discussion centered on whether Maryland needed to raise new revenues to maintain its AAA bond rating, which signals strong fiscal management and allows the state to obtain lower interest rates. Dixon commented that New Jersey recently lost its AAA rating after raising taxes.
TRUANCY BILL QUESTIONED
ANNAPOLIS -- Membersof a House committee questioned Carroll education administrators Wednesday about whether permitting police to issue citations to unlawfully absent students and return them to school is the best way to fighttruancy.
Several members of the Constitutional and AdministrativeLaw Committee said that the bill -- which would apply only in Carroll and Frederick counties -- would "let parents off the hook."
Carroll educators volunteered to participate in the pilot program that would give police officers authority to intervene when they have "probable cause to believe" that a student is unlawfully absent. The citation would start a process under which school officials would investigate the absence, then decide on appropriate measures, including informing the parents if the absence is unlawful.
The bill also would authorize courts to impose fines of up to $25 for a first violation and$100 for subsequent violations.
Del. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's, a 30-year educator, criticized the proposal.
"It seems tome we have laws on the books that are strong, and we need to enforcethose," she said, adding parents can be imprisoned for unlawfully keeping children out of school.
She questioned whether issuing a citation would change an incorrigible youth.
Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge and two county educators supported the bill.
Matthews said Carroll school and juvenile services have strong youth programs and should be entrusted to develop an effective experimental truancy program.
DRIVING BILL IS PASSED
ANNAPOLIS -- The House voted, 121-5, Friday to pass a bill sponsored by Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, that wouldrequire the Motor Vehicle Administration to expunge convictions fromdriving records.
Under the bill, moving violations would be expunged if the licensee had no other driving-related convictions during the preceding three years. MVA would be prohibited from erasing the record if a driver has been convicted of an alcohol-related driving offense, or if he has ever had his license suspended or revoked.
Currently, a license holder must ask MVA in writing to expunge the record, which is available to the public.
IMPOSE $25 SURCHARGE
ANNAPOLIS -- Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, introduced a bill last week to require courts to impose a $25 surcharge for those convicted of, or granted probation before judgment, for alcohol-related driving offenses.
The surcharge would be in addition to regular penalties, with the proceeds earmarked for the state's General Fund.
The bill has been defeated by the House Judiciary Committee in each of the past two years.