Governor to propose bill to fight `racial profiling'

Legislation to curb race-based traffic stops died in feud last session

July 08, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will include a bill to curb race-based traffic stops in his legislative package for next year -- putting added political muscle behind a proposal that faltered in the waning hours of this year's General Assembly session.

Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill confirmed yesterday that the governor had disclosed his intentions in a radio interview Thursday. He said the details of the legislation had not been worked out.

Legislation to curb the practice known as "racial profiling" passed the state House of Delegates last year -- only to be caught up in a feud among Baltimore's African-American legislators.

City senators led by Clarence M. Mitchell IV, Clarence W. Blount and Nathaniel J. McFadden blocked the bill because of an unrelated dispute with Del. Howard P. Rawlings, its chief House sponsor. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had angered the senators by seeking an audit of Morgan State University.

The senators attempted to pass a weaker substitute bill with Rawlings' name taken out, but the legislation never made it to the Senate floor. The senators' maneuver backfired when it brought them under heavy public criticism, including a rebuke by Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Since the session, Rawlings has sent out a mailing blaming Mitchell and McFadden for the bill's demise while sparing the powerful Blount.

Legislators said Glendening's decision to adopt the bill as an administration priority is likely to put it over the top in the 2001 session. "Being a governor's bill increases its stature," said Rawlings.

The Baltimore Democrat said he doesn't mind giving up the role of lead sponsor, saying he wants to "move my name to the back."

"I was not necessarily interested in credit. I was interested in serving my community," he said.

Del. Talmadge Branch, the new chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said making the legislation an administration bill should remove what the senators perceived as a "sponsorship problem." "We just want a bill that would protect the citizens of Baltimore and surrounding counties," said Branch, who has alleged that he was pulled over by a city officer in a case of racial profiling.

Many African-Americans have long contended that police officers single them out for traffic stops and searches without probable cause.

McFadden said the governor's action would "absolutely" remove senators' objections to the bill. "That's the whole idea," he said. "I'm glad that he has stepped up to the plate on this one."

Del. Lisa A. Gladden, who co-sponsored last year's bill, said she expects the governor's legislation to resemble the version passed by the House with broad support.

That bill, which was softened from its original form, would have required police agencies to keep detailed records of each traffic stop, including information about the driver's race. That data would have then been given to the University of Maryland, College Park for analysis.

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