Disabilities commission would get redesign


March 24, 1995|By Sun staff writer John A. Morris from staff reports.

An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly reported that a proposed constitutional amendment to change the Maryland Judicial Disabilities Commission would have to be signed by the governor before it could appear on a statewide ballot. Amendments to the state constitution must be approved by a three-fifths majority of the House of Delegates and Senate, but do not require the governor's signature.

, The Sun regrets the errors.

An effort to reform the way Maryland judges are disciplined is making headway through the General Assembly.

By unanimous vote, the Senate yesterday approved a constitutional amendment that would restructure the Judicial Disabilities Commission, giving non-judges a greater say in the process.

The Senate bill would expand the commission from seven appointed members to nine. It would be composed of three judges, three lawyers and three lay individuals.


The House Judiciary Committee approved a similar measure Wednesday, expanding the commission to 11, with two more public members than the Senate bill.

Also unlike the Senate legislation, the House version does not give the commission the power to discipline judges, only to make recommendations to the Court of Appeals.

The differences are expected to be worked out between the two houses. If signed into law by the governor, the constitutional amendment would appear on the 1996 general election ballot for voter approval.

Senate OKs required helmets for children

Youngsters may soon be legally required to wear helmets--when riding bicycles in Maryland, but kids who violate the law won't face punishment or fine.

The Senate approved a measure yesterday, 36-11, that would require bicycle riders and passengers under the age of 16 to wear helmets. Violators would receive a written warning and a copy of a pamphlet or other brochure about bicycle helmet use.

The Ocean City boardwalk between the inlet and 27th Street would be exempt from the requirement.

The House has passed similar legislation. Both versions are modeled after a Howard County law.

Legislators argue plan to cut housing costs

A measure approved by the House of Delegates yesterday to lower closing costs, particularly for first-time Maryland homebuyers, actually would raise fees for most buyers and sellers.

Legislative budget analysts have projected that the state would collect $2.8 million more in transfer taxes as a result of House Bill 100, which passed 112-22.

"How is this a 'closing cost reduction,' when the net gain to the state is $2.8 million?" asked Anne Arundel County Del. Victoria Schade, a freshman Republican.

To reduce closing costs for homebuyers, the bill would cut in half the property taxes that buyers have to prepay. For someone buying a house for the first time in Maryland, it could slash the transfer and recordation taxes they must pay.

Supporters say that for a first-time buyer, the measure would lower the upfront costs on a $150,000 house in Baltimore County by 30 percent or about $2,870.

"They will no longer need a mountain of cash" at the settlement table, said Del. Anne Healey, a Democrat from Prince George's County. "It's still a small hill, but this is a first step."

Ms. Schade countered that the bill also requires sellers and subsequent homebuyers to pick up the tab. In some instances, it could actually discourage homeowners who want to avoid paying additional fees from selling to first-time buyers, she said.

The Senate has approved a similar package of closing cost measures.

Legislators barred from some lobbying

In the latest in a series of bills aimed at improving the reputation of lobbyists in Annapolis, the House yesterday approved legislation that would prohibit legislators from also lobbying state agencies.

The measure, which passed 131-1, now goes to the Senate.

Over the years, various legislators have been criticized for appearing before state agencies as a lobbyist while still serving in the General Assembly. Most usually were lawyers representing private clients.

The most recent incident involved former state Sen. Laurence Levitan, a lawyer who lobbied the governor and two state agencies during the 1993 legislative session in an effort to derail an incinerator that could take business from a company he was paid to represent.

During a heated re-election fight in Montgomery County last fall, his Republican opponent -- who won -- characterized Mr. Levitan's lobbying as a "conflict of interest."

House Bill 1198 would prohibit any legislator from being paid to represent a person or company before a state agency in any matter involving procurement or the adoption or implementation of regulations.

Laws tightened to curb car theft

The House unanimously approved a measure yesterday that would tighten the state's theft laws in an effort to curb an epidemic of "joy riding" and car theft.

House Bill 497, unanimously approved, would make car theft a specific felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

Most car thieves now escape serious punishment because it is difficult to convict them under the state's general theft statute. The bill eliminates a requirement that prosecutors prove a defendant had no intention of returning the vehicle.

More than 1,000 cars a month were stolen last year in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III testified that gangs of juveniles who know how difficult a conviction is to obtain, "are having competitions to see who can steal the most cars."

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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