Senate Joins House in Approving DNA Collection in Criminal Cases

By Annapolis Digest
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Maryland Senate joined the House of Delegates yesterday in approving the collection of DNA samples from suspects charged with violent crimes and burglary.

The vote was 36 to 11 after the Senate amended the bill, one of the top priorities of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), to reflect changes sought by the Legislative Black Caucus. The caucus had criticized the initial legislation as unfairly targeting minorities who are arrested but never charged with crimes. The bill, which passed the House last week, now allows a sample only when someone is charged with certain crimes. The sample would be destroyed if the person is exonerated.

Several black lawmakers said they were conflicted about the bill but believe it could be a vital tool in fighting crime. "The problems this may have with ethnic groups are important, but public safety outweighs those considerations," Sen. Nathanial J. McFadden (D-Baltimore) said.

The measure was opposed by an alliance of conservative Republicans and black Democrats.

-- Lisa Rein

Cellphone Bill Gets Mixed Response in House

A proposal passed narrowly by the Senate last week to prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones while driving received a mixed reaction in the House yesterday.

After a hearing in the House Environmental Matters Committee, some committee leaders said they would fight to oppose the proposed ban, signaling that its prospects for passage might be in jeopardy. The bill must pass the panel before receiving full consideration on the House floor.

Other committee members support the proposal, including Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), the chairwoman, and said they think momentum is building to pass it in the closing days of the session. After considerable debate, the Senate voted 26 to 21 to pass the bill.

It would make driving while using a cellphone without a hands-free accessory a secondary offense, meaning a driver could be cited if pulled over for another violation.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Michael G. Lenett (D-Montgomery), testified before the House committee yesterday that many other states and the District have adopted similar laws. "This is a growing trend that is becoming national, and I don't know why Maryland would be so far behind," Lenett said.

McIntosh said last week she will push hard for the bill's passage in her committee. Virginia P. Clagett (D-Anne Arundel), a leading member of the committee, said she has long supported the cellphone ban.

But Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's), another leading member, said she will vote against the bill.

"I think people don't like government consistently interfering in their lives," Frush said.

-- Philip Rucker

O'Malley Meets on Computer Services Tax

After a closed-door meeting with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), legislative leaders reaffirmed their interest in repealing the state's new tax on computer services but voiced no agreement yesterday on how to compensate for the $200 million in revenue that would be lost.

"There are some real alternatives, but there's no consensus at this time," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said.

O'Malley has suggested a surcharge on millionaires. Others have floated the idea of diverting transportation funds and cutting the state budget further. The tax, part of a package of revenue increases approved in November's special session, is to take effect July 1.

-- John Wagner

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