Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 27, 2007

Unanimous Senate passes bill aimed at identity theft

The Maryland Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday that would allow state residents to block access to their credit reports, which consumer advocates say can help thwart identity theft.

Lawmakers acted after Johns Hopkins and St. Mary's hospitals revealed recently that they had lost sensitive personal data on about 265,000 people.

Advocates of the bill say that by enabling a consumer to limit when credit bureaus release their reports, they can prevent thieves from using their personal information to open bogus accounts.

The House of Delegates, which passed a similar bill last year, is considering the legislation again this session. About 25 states have enacted laws that allow the so-called credit freezes.

Laura Smitherman

Md. death penalty ruling

Maryland won't have to comply with a federal court order requiring the state to explore how hard it would be to recruit doctors to participate in executions until pending legislation relating to capital punishment is resolved, a judge has decided.

U.S. District Judge Benson Legg's order, issued Thursday, underscores the impact of the death penalty debate under way in Annapolis. He issued the order in response to requests from both sides of the federal civil case involving death-row inmate Vernon Evans Jr.

"Given the recent and rapid changes in Maryland death penalty law and state administration, and, in light of the bills introduced during the legislative session, the defendants request that their compliance with the court's order be suspended," lawyers for the state attorney general's office wrote.

In a December ruling, the state's highest court invalidated Maryland execution protocols and effectively halted the death penalty in the state.

Capital punishment cannot resume in Maryland until the protocols are properly adopted under the Maryland Administrative Procedure Act or exempted from the act by the General Assembly.

A bill in Annapolis would exempt the protocols from the act's requirements. If approved, it would go into effect June 1.

Another measure would repeal the death penalty in Maryland, replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Two legislative committees heard testimony on the bill last week, and the panels' votes, which could be close, are expected soon.

Legg's order requires lawyers for the state and Evans to file a status report every 90 days.

Lawyers for Evans contend that personnel who currently carry out lethal injections are not qualified to know if an inmate is properly anesthetized before being put to death.

Advocates on both sides of the death penalty issue viewed the decision as somewhat incidental to the larger debate, which could be resolved in the final weeks of the 90-day General Assembly session.

"It's just part of the judicial circus with judges and lawmakers desperate to keep a double killer alive," said Mike Paranzino, president of Throw Away the Key, a Kensington nonprofit that supports the death penalty. "And this is just another opinion that further delays justice for Evans' victims."

Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said Legg's ruling is evidence of a broken system that is beyond repair.

"I think it just underscores what we've been saying all along. This is a legal quagmire," she said. "It would be very difficult to fix."

Evans was sentenced to die for the murders of Scott Piechowicz and his sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, in 1983.

Associated Press and Jennifer Skalka

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