The General Assembly yesterday forwarded to Gov. Harry Hughes three bills designed to toughen Maryland's criminal sentencing laws, including one that would increase the minimum sentence that must be served under a life prison term.

"We are giving the message that we're representing the people," Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D-Prince George's) said. "I don't know that judges are as close to the people. We have to run for election every four years and judges only run every 15 years."

"Every time we run for election, we get the message to get tough on criminals. We are telling the judges they have to be tougher, too," Miller added.

The legislation was supported by the Stephanie Roper Committee, a citizen lobbying group formed after the brutal murder of Stephanie Ann Roper, a Frostburg State College honors student, who lived with her family in Prince George's County.

The Senate unanimously passed a House bill that would increase from 15 to 25 years the minimum sentence that must be served under a life sentence before criminals are eligible for parole.

The two men convicted of killing Roper were sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. Under current law both could be eligible for parole in 12 years.

The Senate also unanimously approved a second House-passed bill that would require a victim impact statement to be submitted to a judge or jury before sentencing in cases where the death penalty is sought.

On a 38-to-5 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would remove intoxication as a mitigating circumstance that a court or jury could consider in capital cases.