State to seek cyber firms

Governor, lawmakers plan Internet-friendly package of laws

12-bill `Technology Agenda'

January 14, 2000|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

In a bid to make Maryland a mecca for electronic commerce, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders have agreed to push an ambitious package of bills aimed at creating the friendliest legal environment in the nation for doing business over the Internet.

The "Technology Agenda" to be unveiled today at an Annapolis news conference would promote high-technology businesses in the state while updating existing laws to deal with legal problems spawned by the cyber-revolution -- issues such as computer piracy, invasion of privacy and distribution of child pornography over the Internet.

If adopted, the measures would be a major step for Maryland toward the "paperless" society that futurists have long predicted would result from the advent of personal computers.

"The governor and legislative leaders are working together to make sure that Maryland is going to move farther into the forefront of the digital economy by establishing a framework that grows businesses, protects citizens and protects children," said Michael Morrill, a Glendening spokesman.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said the 12 bills the men have agreed upon -- and at least one other Taylor is sponsoring to create a specialized technology court -- would "make Maryland the e-commerce and technology capital" of the country.

"It's very aggressive, and it's a new frontier," Taylor said.

The legislative package largely follows the recommendations of the Internet Technology Board, charged last year by the Assembly with developing a strategy for promoting an industry that is assuming a rapidly growing share of the state and national economy.

"One third of the national economy is driven by information technology," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "It's an area the state has got to move forward on immediately."

Miller said that the legislative package "will put us not only ahead of our sister states but in the forefront nationally. We'd like to see Annapolis become the information technology capital of the free world."

Legislative leaders have introduced bills to promote electronic commerce by adopting proposed national standards for digital signatures and for licensing of computer software.

Another bill would allow a new state Technology Development Corp. to finance Internet start-up companies, which Glendening plans to give $7.5 million over the next three years.

To encourage the development of private Internet businesses, another bill would establish an advisory board of computer company chief executives. The University of Maryland would start a pilot project in online procurement of goods and services such as payroll and accounting.

Another measure proposes a mandate that the majority of state government services be provided online within the next five years.

"It will allow us not just to talk about but to actually demonstrate how a state can maximize the use of the Internet," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who was co-chairman of the technology board.

The legislature also plans to tackle the legal and criminal issues that have arisen around the Internet. Bills are being drafted to counter "spam," or unsolicited e-mail, and to guarantee consumers privacy from online snooping.

Other bills would attempt to strengthen the state's criminal laws in combating computer hackers and con artists. One measure, sponsored by Baltimore Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, would make it a crime to gain unauthorized access to a computer.

One issue not addressed by the plan is Maryland's attempt to collect sales taxes for goods bought over the Internet, while other states waive or ignore the requirement. Glendening hopes to persuade the nation's governors to agree to enforce existing taxes without adding any new fees on Internet transactions.

Taylor said that given the growth in electronic commerce, Maryland cannot afford to forego sales taxes from Web purchases.

The 12 proposals drew praise from state and national trade groups. "I think Maryland has stepped out in front in trying to address those issues that inhibit e-commerce," said Dyan Brasington, president of the High Technology Council of Maryland.

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