Governor signs bill tightening home day care law

Inspection added

211 other measures OK'd

May 14, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

One year to the day after two infant boys suffocated in a Kent Island day care home, three grieving parents came to Annapolis to witness as Maryland's governor signed legislation that seeks to prevent such accidents.

"It's a little bit of a bittersweet day for us," said Dawn Denny of Stevensville on the anniversary of 6-month-old Ian Walden Denny's death. She was joined by Greg and Elaine Harrison, whose baby Matthew also died under an unsafe blanket.

The legislation signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening will require the state Department of Human Resources to conduct unannounced inspections of family day care providers. It was one of 212 bills the governor signed yesterday, including measures ensuring state employee bargaining rights, imposing stiffer penalties for running red lights and taking driver's licenses away from teen-agers who make bomb threats.

Before signing what he called "a bill that came out of a tragedy," Glendening paid tribute to the parents and to Betty Glasgow, Matthew's grandmother, for their work on behalf of the legislation.

"Your leadership, I believe, has saved the lives of other infants and children," said Glendening, who held Matthew's 3-month-old brother Ryan as he signed the bill.

The deaths received statewide attention and resulted in a 28-month jail sentence last month for day care provider Stacey W. Russum, who pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors said Russum violated state regulations by placing the babies in an adult-size bed and piling blankets around them to keep the infants from rolling off. A state medical examiner said the blankets fell over their faces and suffocated them.

Current law requires the state to conduct an announced inspection of a day care provider when its permit is up for renewal every other year. The new law will add an unannounced inspection in the year the permit is not up for renewal.

Elaine Harrison said working for passage of the bill was a way for the parents to work through the grieving process.

"This puts a positive spin on the day for us," she said. "This is something positive that has come from the deaths of the boys, and it's gone a long way in healing."

Among other bills Glendening signed were several dealing with safety, including one increasing to two the points the Motor Vehicle Administration must assess for running a red light. Another would take driving privileges of minors who use or possess bomb materials or make bomb threats. The bill also lets courts order their parents to pay restitution.

The legislation that drew by far the largest crowd was the governor's collective bargaining bill, the culmination of a decades-long struggle by state employee unions. Among the labor heavyweights who came to Annapolis were John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO national president, and Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Both organizations were major backers of Glendening's re-election, and the two labor leaders played a prominent role at the inauguration in January.

"This is a big deal for the citizens of Maryland, and it's a big deal for public employees all over the country," said Sweeney, a Montgomery County resident.

The measure that passed fell short of union goals and did little more than write into law Glendening's 1996 executive order granting bargaining rights to many state employees. A provision extending such rights to state university employees fell by the wayside, as did a section that would have allowed unions to collect an "agency fee" from nonmembers.

Organized labor treated the signing as a cause for celebration. Donna Edwards, president of the AFSCME unit representing state workers, coined a word for the emotion she was feeling: "exuberated."

McEntee said AFSCME would be back next year to try to win collective bargaining rights for university workers -- a House-passed provision that was stripped from the bill in the Senate.

The AFSCME leader predicted that the union would achieve its goal of an agency fee -- eventually. He conceded that labor would have to broaden its base of support before that would happen.

Absent was any official of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. MCEA, which opposed Glendening's re-election, supported the final bill, but fought to strip the agency fee provision.

Jonathan Carpenter, MCEA's lobbyist in Annapolis, said he had car problems and other MCEA officials had scheduling conflicts.

Bills signed into law

Among the 212 bills signed by the governor yesterday are measures that:

Make semiannual payment of property taxes mandatory starting next year, thus lowering closing costs and requiring lenders to refund excess escrow payments to homeowners.

Make it a misdemeanor for prison inmates to attack correctional workers with body fluids or waste.

Require people convicted of serious crimes to provide a DNA sample.

Authorize state acquisition and redevelopment of Baltimore's Hippodrome Performing Arts Center.

Authorize the state to post the names and addresses of sex offenders on the Internet.

Establish tax credits and economic development loans for companies creating jobs in "distressed" counties and Baltimore City.

Require employers who grant paid leave after birth of a child to extend the benefit to adoptive parents.

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