Legislative digest

April 03, 2008

Panel favors ban on felons' use of fund

A proposal to ban certain felons from tapping into a state fund for crime victims has been approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Sen. James Brochin's measure would ban people convicted of murder, assault, sexual offenses, robbery, serious drug charges and other felonies from receiving awards from the Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

The board compensates crime victims for medical bills, burial expenses and lost wages. Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, drafted the legislation after The Sun reported last month that the board had awarded nearly $1.8 million to 217 offenders, including 147 felons, since 2003.

The proposal was attached to a bill passed by the House of Delegates that would preclude public disclosure of victims' Social Security numbers. The House would have to agree to the new version of the legislation before it could become law.

Josh Mitchell

Zoo CEO promises detailed plan

Donald P. Hutchinson, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Zoo, promised top state officials yesterday that he will give them a detailed plan for getting the zoo back on track.

Hutchinson faced questions at yesterday's Board of Public Works meeting in the wake of recent reports in The Sun dealing with the institution's accreditation and financial struggles.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said he hopes that Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County executive, will be able to "get this institution in a positive direction."

"We haven't had a clean accreditation in 15 years," Hutchinson said. "We're attempting to address many of the issues."

"We would like to see the zoo flourish," said Comptroller Peter Franchot.

O'Malley, Franchot and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp asked Hutchinson to present them with a strategic plan for improving the zoo, noting that they had seen a number of plans in recent years that had not been implemented. Hutchinson said he would do so this year.

Bradley Olson

Parental consent for tanning beds favored

After several lawmakers talked about their experiences with skin cancer, the state Senate passed yesterday a bill that would require minors to obtain parental consent to use tanning beds.

The House of Delegates has approved the bill, and the Senate's action sends the legislation to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The bill would require an artificial-tanning facility to obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian of someone under 18 on the premises before allowing the minor to tan. Violators could be subject to fines of up to $250 for the first offense.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader from Frederick County, had opposed the bill but decided to support it during the final vote, saying, "I've had melanoma, and it is important that parents maintain oversight of their kids until they're of age."

The Senate passed the bill 34-13, a much wider margin than in a preliminary vote. Opponents said the bill involved governmental overreach. Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, asked colleagues whether they would next require parental consent for minors to eat Twinkies or play video games.

Laura Smitherman

Bill to accommodate growth advances

A bill aimed at helping to finance new roads, utilities and other public improvements to accommodate growth around Maryland's military bases cleared a Senate committee yesterday.

The measure sought by the O'Malley administration would earmark up to $10 million in state funds starting in fiscal 2010 to finance infrastructure in designated areas near military bases. The funds, which could leverage much more money in public borrowing, would come from rebates of state property taxes paid on the development expected in those areas.

The bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, also authorizes localities to negotiate payments in lieu of taxes with private developers building on military bases. Those payments would help pay for public improvements needed to accommodate the additional traffic and people working on the bases.

Timothy B. Wheeler

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