Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

March 25, 2006

House passes bill on sex offenders

Tighter restrictions on sex offenders, one of the top priorities of both parties in this year's General Assembly session, moved a step closer to enactment yesterday with a near-unanimous vote in the House of Delegates.

The House approved a bill that would extend parole and supervision for sex offenders, mandate minimum sentences for certain sex offenses, increase offenders' reporting requirements and increase community notification of the presence of offenders. The bill would also prohibit sex offenders from entering the grounds of a school or day care center, a reaction to an incident last year in which a sex offender lingered outside a Glen Burnie elementary school.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the bill combined ideas from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and legislators. It passed the House 139-1 and goes to the Senate for consideration.

Andrew A. Green

Ban on campaigning by regents gets preliminary approval

A ban on political fundraising and campaigning by members of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents got preliminary approval from the House of Delegates yesterday.

The move appears targeted at Richard E. Hug, the top fundraiser for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. who was appointed to the prestigious board three years ago, but the ban on candidacy by regents would also affect former Romanian Ambassador James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat who is running for the state Senate from Prince George's County.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to expand the ban to members of the boards of St. Mary's College and Morgan State University. The governing bodies of those schools include some of the most prominent Democrats running for office this year: U.S. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume at Morgan State and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer at St. Mary's College.

The bill still requires final approval in the House and consideration by the Senate.

Andrew A. Green

Measure on eminent domain heads back to Senate committee

By kicking their eminent domain bill back to committee yesterday, Maryland senators illustrated the difficulty lawmakers are having trying to revamp the state's powers to seize property.

Though tightening the reins on the state's eminent domain laws looked like a sure bet as this General Assembly session began, it's now clear that lawmakers are finding reaching consensus to be extremely difficult.

The most extreme option on the table is changing the state constitution to prohibit seizing property for economic development. Other ideas include bolstering compensation packages for property owners and refining the definition of what constitutes a blighted property.

A House version of the bill is still in committee.

Jill Rosen

Senate panel is unanimous in supporting direct sale of wine

Maryland wineries are a step closer to guaranteeing their ability to sell directly to restaurants and retailers after a Senate committee vote yesterday.

The state's winemakers have long been able to bypass wholesalers, but Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's office ruled that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made that exemption illegal. Maryland wineries sought legislation in this session to effectively restore the exemption without running afoul of the court decision, but they faced stiff opposition from wholesalers, who said such legislation would destroy Maryland's long-standing three-tier system of regulation.

The bill, which got the unanimous support of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday, would create a new type of distribution license that would allow any winery that produces less than 40,000 gallons of wine to sell directly to restaurants and retailers. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration. A similar bill is pending in the House of Delegates.

Andrew A. Green

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