Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

March 23, 2007

Bill limits legislators' scholarship power

Legislators would no longer be able to award scholarships to their relatives or to the families of their colleagues under a bill passed by the state Senate yesterday.

Members of the General Assembly get about $11 million a year to distribute in scholarships to college students, a system that has been subject to frequent criticism from government watchdog groups, who accuse lawmakers of using the money to reward friends or buy votes.

The bill passed 39-8, with some senators saying the measure was a misguided attempt to legislate common sense.

"Boundaries within our law reinforce the application of common sense," said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican. "The fact is, we're getting negative attention when we could take a simple action to avoid that."

Andrew A. Green

Senate OKs sharing STD medicine

The Senate yesterday gave final approval, by a vote of 42-5, to create of a pilot program in Baltimore that would allow chlamydia and gonorrhea patients to pass on prescribed medication to their sexual partners, without requiring the partner to be seen or examined by a health care worker.

Despite a recent decline in the number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases, the rate of these diseases in Baltimore still outpaces the national average, according to the city health department. The city has consistently recorded the highest number of cases of both diseases compared to other counties in Maryland.

"We still have high numbers of individuals contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and the concern is if we don't adopt measures to mitigate that, they will simply increase," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. McFadden has also voiced concern that people would become "comfortable" with the lower levels, and he feared that reckless sexual behavior could drive the rates back up.

The antibiotics used to treat gonorrhea and chlamydia pose little risk to patients, and no adverse events were reported during the program's trial phase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no state law on dispensing medications to a middleman, and Maryland is one of 28 states where this practice is not specifically banned. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates for consideration, possibly as early as next week.

Capital News Service

Felons' voting rights under review

The question of felons' voting rights emerged as a volatile topic in the Maryland Senate yesterday.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Republican representing Frederick and Washington counties, chastised his colleagues for allowing out of committee a bill to restore the right to vote to those convicted of two or more felonies.

"The second time you rape someone, the second time you murder someone, you get your right to vote back? Where are we going with this?" he said. "I think we need to draw the line. I think you have lost permanently your right to vote in the state. I can't believe this bill came to the floor."

Mooney and several other Republicans offered amendments to exempt violent offenders such as murderers, rapists and child molesters, but each proposal failed by narrow margins. The Senate is expected to continue debating the issue today.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, said most of those convicted of two or more violent offenses receive life sentences and would not gain the opportunity to have their rights restored. The bill would restore voting rights for such offenders once they've completed their sentences, including parole or probation.

"We believe as a society in rehabilitation," said Dyson. "It provides another incentive for an ex-offender to do the right thing. If the individual has done their time, it doesn't wipe away their record, but it will restore this civil right."

The House of Delegates is considering a similar measure. In 2002, Maryland lawmakers voted to repeal a lifetime ban on voting for some felons and to impose the three-year waiting period.

Kelly Brewington

House adopts oyster dredging ban

The Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation yesterday that would prohibit the use of power dredging to catch oysters and clams in the Atlantic coastal bays. The action came days after the House passed a bill that would allow the state to lease parcels on the floor of the Chesapeake Bay for oyster restoration.

The dredging bill, which passed 109-29, drew opposition from lawmakers who said the bill would put watermen out of business and lead to the end of part of Maryland's heritage. But proponents said few commercial licenses remain for harvesting by mechanical means. The lease legislation passed unanimously in the House; the Senate has yet to take up either bill.

The House yesterday also passed a bill aimed at eliminating phosphorus from dishwashing detergents sold in the state, to cut down on the dumping of the chemical into the Chesapeake Bay. The vote was unanimous; a companion measure passed the Senate on a 41-5 vote last week.

Laura Smitherman

Paper voting records approved

The House of Delegates unanimously approved legislation this week that could put in place a system for paper records on Maryland's voting machines by the 2010 elections.

However, if funding for the $16 million project doesn't materialize, the law becomes moot. Proponents said such a system would address concerns that the state's touch-screen machines can't be verified for accuracy.

Laura Smitherman

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