Bills Signed On DNA Sampling, Dish Soap

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, shown in a January photo, signed a bill delaying by six months a ban on phosphorus in dish detergents.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, shown in a January photo, signed a bill delaying by six months a ban on phosphorus in dish detergents. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday signed into law bills expanding the state's collection of DNA samples from criminal suspects, establishing a commission to study the death penalty and delaying a ban on phosphorus in dish detergents.

The bills were among dozens signed by the governor at the latest in a series of signing ceremonies since last month's conclusion of the 90-day legislative session. A final one is scheduled next week, by which time O'Malley (D) is expected to announce any vetoes.

One bill signed yesterday provides incentives for local jurisdictions to enhance public infrastructure, such as streets and utilities, in anticipation of growth resulting from the military base closure and realignment process. That legislation was a priority for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D).

O'Malley also signed bills directing the state retirement and pension system to divest itself of investments in companies doing significant business in Iran, setting new standards for child booster seats and declaring walking to be the official state exercise.

The DNA bill, which proved controversial during the session, was one of several aimed at fighting crime that O'Malley made law yesterday. The legislation allows police to take samples of DNA from suspects at the time of charging for certain violent crimes. The state's current policy is to take samples for its database after convictions.

Opponents of the bill argued that it was too intrusive and violated the civil liberties of those who could later be exonerated.

O'Malley said yesterday that the bill would expand the number of cold cases solved by police. Several other states, including Virginia, have shifted policy to include sampling at the point of arrest.

"It's not acceptable and not right that our state should be first in so many good categories and near the top in the bad category of violent crime," O'Malley said.

The bill O'Malley signed to delay the phosphorus ban by six months, until July 2010, was also heavily debated during the session.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who authored the ban, had urged O'Malley to veto the delay legislation, which was requested by dish detergent makers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said O'Malley made the right decision and sought to play down Frosh's concerns about the negative effects a delay would have on the Chesapeake Bay.

"What you need is a balance . . . between the environment and economic development," Miller said. "The effect on the bay is minuscule. . . . Compromise, as the governor says, is not a dirty word."

The bill establishing a commission on the death penalty is likely to extend an effective moratorium on capital punishment that has been in place since December 2006, when the state's highest court ruled that procedures for lethal injection had not been properly adopted.

O'Malley, a death penalty opponent, has not allowed his administration to issue new regulations since then.

The bill signed yesterday calls for a wide-ranging study of the death penalty that could take the remainder of the year.

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