Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

March 15, 2007

O'Malley to name Brenner to PSC

Lawrence Brenner, deputy chief administrative law judge with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will fill a vacant seat on the state Public Service Commission, a source close to Gov. Martin O'Malley said last night.

Brenner, who has worked for the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will be the new Democratic governor's third appointee to the five-member board - replacing Charles R. Boutin, a former Republican legislator who had been named to the PSC by O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Boutin, whose resignation took effect a week ago, was among the PSC members sharply criticized by Democrats for the panel's handling of a BGE rate increase last year - an issue that became a major theme of O'Malley's election campaign.

Brenner, a resident of Boyds in Montgomery County, holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Brooklyn College and a law degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Jennifer Skalka

Few senators at sex bill hearing

Though a proposal to tighten the state's sex offender laws for a second year has broad support in the state Senate, it received scant attention yesterday from members of the chamber's Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh pushed a hearing on the legislation to the end of a 13-bill agenda, including a measure that would outlaw the chaining of dogs ouside. The hearing began about 6 p.m., five hours after the committee began its session, angering several advocates who had traveled across the country to testify.

Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, and several other committee members did not attend the hearing. Many advocates began their testimony yesterday with complaints.

"This is a unique experience for me to wait five hours to speak to three people," said Marc Klaas, who flew in from California, where his 12-year-old daughter, Polly, had been kidnapped and murdered by a sex offender on parole.

The bill provides that any adult convicted of a rape or sex offense in the first, second, or third degree against a victim under the age of 13 is not eligible for parole while serving a mandatory minimum sentence for the offense.

First-degree rapes and sex offenses, the most severe, have a 25-year minimum, and second-degree offenses are punishable with a minimum five-year term.

The bill, sponsored by Harford County Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs, also would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of two years without parole for third-degree sex offenses against someone under the age of 13.

Jacobs was unable to attend the hearing because of a family medical emergency. The bill has 24 co-sponsors - representing a majority of the 47-member Senate.

Melissa Harris

Wiretapping on school buses?

School bus drivers would be able to record students' conversations under a General Assembly proposal that would carve out an exception to the state's wiretapping law for education-related transportation.

Wiretapping laws currently prohibit audio recordings on school buses without passengers' consent. Video cameras already monitor students to capture fights and inappropriate behavior.

But several bus drivers told a Senate committee yesterday that the cameras are not enough to corroborate or refute students' or parents' complaints, or determine who initiated a dispute.

"Without audio, we can't prove what students are saying to drivers," Barbara Bayer, manager of Woodlawn Motor Coach Inc., told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "Even though the equipment is expensive, it's needed."

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, is the sponsor of the Senate bill. Eight delegates are sponsoring the House version of the measure.

Melissa Harris

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