Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 15, 2007

Legislators debate proposals after reported data losses

Days after two Maryland institutions - Johns Hopkins and St. Mary's Hospital - revealed that they had lost sensitive personal information on about 265,000 people, state legislators debated two proposals intended to protect consumers against identity theft and said the incidents underscore the need for changes to the law.

The bills being considered would require that businesses promptly notify consumers when their information has been lost or stolen, and would allow Maryland consumers to block access to their credit reports to prevent thieves from posing as them to open credit card or other accounts. The House Economic Matters Committee took up several versions of those bills yesterday.

"Consumers really deserve the right to know when their personal information has been lost or taken because it enables them to take quick, appropriate action against identity theft," said Del. Susan C. Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Lee has introduced a credit-report freeze bill that has dozens of co-sponsors. Yesterday, Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Cecil County Republican, and Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, said they would withdraw credit-report freeze bills they filed to throw their support behind Lee's legislation.

But the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists support a consumer notification bill introduced by Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Prince George's County Democrat. Consumer advocates say Howard's bill has weaker protections, such as a lower threshold for when businesses don't have to notify each consumer.

Bryson F. Popham, a lobbyist for T. Rowe Price Group Inc., a Baltimore-based investment management company, said the interests of consumers and businesses must be balanced.

"Consumer protection concerns are paramount, but there has to be a realistic approach to the burden to regulated businesses," he said.

Laura Smitherman

House OKs early voting changes

A constitutional amendment allowing early voting in Maryland got preliminary approval yesterday in the state House.

Delegates voted yesterday to stick with an amendment that would go on 2008 ballots asking voters if they want to allow early voting. If they say yes, voters could cast early ballots by 2010.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pin changes to the amendment that would make certain that its approval wouldn't revive a 2006 law they found unfair. The GOP argued that polling places outlined in the law were to Democrats' advantage because they were in liberal neighborhoods.

"There's been a lot of hard feeling, a lot of concern" among Republicans about early voting, said Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Democrats insisted that the GOP changes weren't necessary. They said lawmakers would still have to spell out particulars of how early voting would work in future years.

"Let's see what the voters want to do before we cloud things up," said Del. Jon S. Cardin, a Democrat.

A final House vote is expected this week. A similar version is pending in the Senate, where it was delayed for the second time yesterday. A three-fifths majority is required in both houses and voters would be asked to approve the change next year.

Associated Press

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