ANNAPOLIS — The House Judiciary Committee voted, 17-1, to kill a bill sponsored by Carroll Del. Richard N. Dixon that would have eliminated the rightto free counsel enjoyed by inmates petitioning their sentences.
Dixon, a Democrat, was attempting to make it more difficult for prisoners sentenced to death to prolong their cases by filing multiple appeals, many of which are considered frivolous by the Carroll delegate and court officials.
Dixon's bill, which was defeated by the same committee last year,would have required the courts to determine whether a convict filinga first petition for "post-conviction relief" should be entitled to counsel. The bill would have applied not only to death row inmates, but also to others sentenced to lesser penalties who also have the right to counsel upon a first petition.
The bill was intended to savetaxpayers' money and the courts' time by establishing more stringentrestrictions on the appeals process. Dixon says capital punishment in Maryland is an "almost impossible" sentence to carry out because ofappeal options.
Several public defenders opposed the bill, sayingthe concept actually could increase the court's caseload. They said judges likely would appoint counsel to represent inmates, even if theappeals were frivolous. Public defenders currently screen the appeals and often advise inmates not to pursue their cases, they said.
ABUSE LEGISLATION FAILS
ANNAPOLIS -- Three Carrollresidents told personal stories to a House committee last week of their battles to be released from records social service agencies maintain for suspected child or vulnerable adult abusers.
However, the stories failed to convince the committee.
The Judiciary Committee voted, 19-0, Friday to kill the bill sponsored by Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll Republican. The bill would have strengthened the rights of individuals reported for suspected abuse to see their records and to have an administrative hearing.
The bill was aimed at protecting those who have been wrongly accused of abuse and whose cases havebeen "ruled out" by the social service agency, which currently keepsinformation about all reported abusers on file.
Westminster residents Elliott Burgher and David Hodge testified in support of the bill. Both were reported for suspected abuse, then subsequently had theircases dismissed. Both are pursuing legal actions to force the state Department of Human Resources to expunge their names from records andto set a new precedent for record-keeping.
Mount Airy resident Jocelyn Buck, whose case is listed as "substantiated," also testified. She maintains that she was wrongly accused of abusing her son and that the County Department of Social Services has stonewalled her attempts to clear her name.
Elliott, who has worked on changing the system for three years, said he is hopeful the committee will study the issue during the interim. He said it appears committee members are beginning to become more aware of problems citizens are encountering with social services agencies.
The bill would have required the stateDepartment of Human Resources to establish and maintain a central registry for all reports concerning abuse cases. The cost of setting upand administering such a system -- although estimates are sketchy --hurt the bill's chances, said Elliott.
The committee passed, 21-0, another Elliott bill that would compel social services departments to expunge records of suspected adult abuse or neglect after three years if the case is "ruled out."
Elliott's original bill required the expungement to take place 120 days following the date of the referral, but the DHR was successful in amending the legislation. A bill Elliott sponsored last year, which now is law, set a 120-day limit forchild abuse and neglect.
Elliott said he'll attempt to reverse the amendment if the bill reaches the Senate.
SMELSER ASKS REDUCTION
ANNAPOLIS -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser's attempt to amend the fiscal 1993 budget to reduce salaries of state employees earning $50,000 or more was narrowly defeated by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
The amendment originally passed the committee, 7-5, but was reconsidered and defeated, 7-5, said Smelser, a Carroll Democrat on the panel.
The amendment, which Smelser says he might offer on the Senate floor, proposed these salary reductions: 1 percent for employees earning $50,000 to $60,000; 2 percent for those earning $60,000 to $70,000; 3 percent for those earning $70,000 to $80,000; 4 percent for those earning $80,000 to $90,000; and 5 percent for those earning $90,000 and more.
The amendment would affect about2,741 state government employees and another 2,716 University of Maryland employees, said Smelser.
Smelser contends that raises for state administrators were too generous in the 1980s and that those salaries should be cut back to help balance the budget.
INMATES BILL PASSES
ANNAPOLIS -- The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill, 21-0, that would allow the county commissioners to employ prisoners on public service projects but deleted a provision thatwould grant the commissioners and the county sheriff civil immunity from liability.
Commissioner President Donald I. Dell and Sheriff John H. Brown said they expect to be held responsible for any actionsthe County Detention Center inmates might commit while on the job orin the event of an escape. They said the amendment is acceptable.
The sheriff said he would only allow inmates convicted of "less-serious crimes" to participate.