House panel tees off on governor's bills Teen drinking, child support, court measures die

February 17, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's legislative package has run into the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the new leadership of Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., the committee has killed three of the governor's bills involving underage drinking, child support and the court system. And it weakened a fourth bill targeted at carjacking.

Mr. Schaefer said yesterday he was "very, very surprised" by the committee's decision to kill the three bills Friday "without even suggesting that maybe they could amend the bills and without talking to the governor."

Delegate Vallario, D-Prince George's, didn't help the bills' chances by rushing them to a vote within days of their public hearings, complained David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist.

If he had been given more time to lobby, Mr. Iannucci said, he might have been able to swing the votes of some committee members.

Mr. Iannucci, who began his law career by working for Mr. Vallario, spoke with his old mentor yesterday.

Afterward, he acknowledged that the new chairman is under pressure to move bills quickly since House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. abolished one committee and redistributed its work to the others last month. Mr. Vallario could not be reached late yesterday.

The failed bills would have:

* Enabled hospitals to ask unmarried fathers, in the first hours after a child's birth, to sign papers declaring their paternity. The measure would have made it easier to collect child support payments if a father later abandoned a child.

* Suspended the driver's license of anyone under 21 convicted of possessing or drinking an alcoholic beverage. Current state laws give judicial authorities the power to suspend a driver's license only for offenses related to driving or the use of the license.

* Abolished the "de novo" provision that allows people convicted in District Court to get a new trial automatically in Circuit Court. The Senate earlier killed its version of the bill, siding with opponents who said it would prompt more defendants to seek costly jury trials in Circuit Courts.

Mr. Iannucci described the paternity bill as a common sense approach that would have saved tax dollars that might otherwise be spent on welfare benefits for the child.

Chairman Vallario, however, said the committee believes "paternity-type proceedings should be prosecuted in the court, not in a doctor's office."

Mr. Iannucci also took the committee to task for killing legislation aimed at depriving teens of something they value highly -- their driver's licenses. "It was supposed to discourage teen-age drinking," he said.

Mr. Vallario said the bill could have had the opposite effect, arguing that drunk teens would be less motivated to find a sober driver if they thought they would lose their licenses just for being a passenger in a car. "There are a lot of people who drink a hell of a lot who don't get in a car when they do," Mr. Vallario said.

In addition, Mr. Vallario's committee weakened the governor's carjacking proposal by deleting language requiring carjacking convicts to serve a mandatory prison sentence of at least 15 years.

Many members of the panel have opposed minimum mandatory sentences in the past on the grounds that they remove a judge's discretion in sentencing and increase prison crowding.

Fifteen years without parole may be too steep for an accomplice to the crime, Mr. Vallario said. "We pay judges to do sentencing and that's what they should do."

The bill makes carjacking a separate offense with a maximum sentence of 30 years. The full House is expected to vote on the measure this week.

The mandatory 15-year sentencing provision survived in the Senate version of the bill, which passed, 46-1, Monday night. A conference committee likely will hammer out the differences.

"The bill is still a good bill," Mr. Iannucci said. "It clearly provides for lengthier penalties, but we still strongly prefer mandatory penalties."

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