Assembly approves bill to ban trapping of state's terrapin

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

General Assembly

March 16, 2007

The General Assembly approved legislation yesterday banning the capture of diamondback terrapin, the state mascot threatened by a growing market in China for turtle soup.

The bill directs the Department of Natural Resources to adopt regulations governing the conservation of the turtles.

Watermen reported trapping more than 10,000 of the rare reptiles last year - a twentyfold increase from the year before.

Demand for the state turtle is fueled by a growing appetite for Chesapeake terrapin soup in China, where many native turtles have been killed off.

The House approved the bill 127-10, while the Senate voted 43-2 for the bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley had said his administration would impose a moratorium on the trapping of terrapin, favoring that approach over legislation.

Nonetheless, his spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said yesterday that the governor would sign the bill.

Laura Smitherman

Workers' comp bill advances

A bill that would expand workers' compensation coverage to auxiliary police officers in Howard County received preliminary approval yesterday in the state Senate.

The legislation is named after auxiliary officer Pieter Lucas, who was volunteering at an accident scene on U.S. 40 in 2005 when another car slammed into him, pinning his legs between his sport utility vehicle and another one. Doctors amputated part of his leg.

Howard County initially denied Lucas' claim for medical benefits, arguing that state law did not list the county's small auxiliary force as being a covered group. Nothing in state law, however, prohibited Howard County from covering the claim.

The state's Workers' Compensation Commission ruled against the county and ordered it to pay the expenses and lost wages.

"The county can still contest a claim under this law if the officer was really injured for other reasons and not while on duty," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican and former workers' compensation lawyer, who pushed the legislation.

The bill is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate today and if approved, it will be sent to the House of Delegates.

Del. Gail H. Bates, a Howard County Republican, said that the county's delegation supports the Senate bill, and that passage in the House "should not be a problem."

Melissa Harris

Bad driving news for truants

Teenagers who skip school would lose driving privileges under a bill that passed the Maryland House yesterday.

The bill, approved 133-1, would prohibit students with 10 or more unexcused absences in the past calendar year from getting a learner's permit.

The state would suspend driving privileges of students who already have a license and go truant more than 10 times in a year.

Students who have officially dropped out of school wouldn't be affected.

Del. Gerron S. Levi, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said high truancy rates correlate with higher daytime crimes such as home invasions. Taking away the chance to drive, she said, might be the best way to get teens' attention.

"This is just one way to get their attention and say, `Hey, stay in school,'" Levi said.

State analysts say the bill could cost several thousand dollars a year to pay for the cost of schools notifying transportation authorities about school absences.

The measure now heads to the Senate.

Associated Press

Senate passes phosphorus bill

The Maryland Senate passed a bill yesterday that would take nearly all of the phosphorus out of dishwashing detergent, a measure aimed at reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Senate voted 41-5 for the legislation, which would require dishwashing detergent sold in Maryland to contain less than half a percent of phosphorus by December 2008.

Phosphorous gets into the bay through sewers and other direct discharges, contributing to poor water quality. Supporters say that reducing the amount of phosphorus that enters the bay will assist the health of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the nation's largest estuary.

State officials estimate that the bill could reduce phosphorus in the bay by 3 percent.

The bill ran into resistance from the detergent industry, which contends more time is needed to make the change. They suggested putting the change off until 2010.

Phosphates were banned in 1989 from laundry detergents in many states.

There has been more resistance to banning them from dishwasher detergent. That's because of arguments that phosphate-free alternatives don't perform as well.

Associated Press

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