Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

February 22, 2006

Driver's license bill urges restrictions

For the past three years, Maryland lawmakers have debated bills that would prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Each time, the measures have failed.

Yesterday, legislators took up the issue again, with what some called a renewed urgency to meet an impending federal requirement.

Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican and sponsor of the bill, said that the state should restrict licenses to illegal immigrants because a federal law would require Maryland to revise its drivers license statute by 2008.

McMillan said his bill is essential for security reasons.

"Other than physically securing our borders, ensuring the validity of driver's licenses is the most important action we can take domestically on the war on terror," he said.

The federal law, known as the Real ID Act, requires states to overhaul the way they administer driver's licenses. It requires additional security procedures and prohibits illegal immigrants from obtaining standard licenses.

But the law allows states to decide for themselves whether to issue driving certificates to temporary workers and people with pending immigration cases.

Advocates for immigrants turned out in force yesterday to show their concern for the proposed state legislation, which they said would prevent the state from devising a compromise such as a two-tier system -- standard licenses for citizens and temporary permits for some immigrants.

Scores of supporters seated in an auditorium wore yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Immigrants build this country," as immigrant advocates told the House Judiciary Committee that passing the bill would be premature.

They said soon-to-be-published federal guidelines will help states administer the changes and that preventing immigrants from driving now would only create headaches for undocumented workers.

"There is no urgency in changing Maryland law," Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat who opposes the bill, said after the hearing. "Not having a license is a dimension many of us don't ever think about. We couldn't work, we couldn't take our children to school, go to church or just enjoy outings with family. This is a quality-of-life issue."

Kelly Brewington

Retroactive raises in jeopardy

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar began notifying correctional officers yesterday that a retroactive portion of their pay raise proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. could be in jeopardy.

Budget analysts for the Maryland General Assembly are recommending that legislators not make pay raises to state correctional officers retroactive to Jan. 1, Saar told her employees. Lawmakers have not made a decision on the recommendation from the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

In a news release, Saar called the suggestion a "slap in the face" to correctional officers, and urged them to contact their elected officials about the issue.

Last month, Ehrlich proposed a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all state employees to take effect July 1, the start of the new budget year. His proposal called for additional pay raises averaging 6 percent for correctional officers, retroactive to Jan. 1.

A spokesman for the public safety department said the raises would go to about 7,800 people employed in corrections. Making the raises retroactive would cost the state $15.5 million, he said.

Greg Garland

Blackwater project opposed

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which has been campaigning against a 3,200-home subdivision planned near the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, released a poll this week that concluded that most local residents oppose the project.

The survey of 625 Dorchester voters conducted Feb. 16-17 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington found that 60 percent oppose the Blackwater Resort project, and 28 percent support it.

Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons and other local officials support the $1 billion development on wetlands and farmland south of the city, and have said the project will bring much-needed tax dollars to a community that has lost population since the 1960s.

A Cambridge City Council public hearing on the project is scheduled for Feb. 27. The General Assembly is considering legislation that would restrict development near wildlife refuges.

Tom Pelton

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