The State Senate passed legislation yesterday to outlaw "child snatching" in Maryland, making it illegal for a parent to abduct a child less then 12 years old from his legal guardian.

The bill, which now goes to the House, is designed to protect court-appointed parents from the costly and time-consuming legal process of retrieving their children from divorced spouses.

"This is consumer legislation," said Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince Georges's) after the bill passed 41 to 1. "You avoid the legal fees and the months it takes to get the child back into his home."

Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), said authorizing police to intervene in domestic cases intensifies the "trauma" for a child caught in the middle of the fight.

"I can't think of any parent who would take a child without reasons sufficient to them," said Denis. "They think they're doing the right thing. This bill throws the parent in jail and then asks questions."

The problem of "child snatching" has become widespread in recent years. According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 children across the nation are abducted each year by one of their parents.

The problem was recently dramatized when the former wife of Montgomery County School Superintedent Charles Bernardo allegedly fled the state with their 9-yeaold daughter, even though the child was in the legal of her father.

Several states, including Virginia, have outlawed child abduction by a parent. The laws were needed because most kidnaping statutes do not extend to parents who run off with their children.

In Maryland, "child snatching" cases are now referred to civil courts. To get a child returned, the parent named as the legal guardian must file a suit seeking a court order.

According to the Senate bill passed yesterday, the legal guardian could ask police to help find the child. The abducting parent could be arrested and separated from his child by law enforces.

If the abductor is found guilty of violating the proposed law, he would face a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a fine of $250. The crime would be considered a misdemeanor.