The Maryland Senate yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow cities and counties to install cameras in residential areas where the speed limit is 35 mph and in school zones to catch speeding motorists.
The 33 to 14 vote came one day after the Senate killed a measure that would have abolished cameras currently in use to catch red-light runners.
Under the speeding bill, motorists caught on camera going more than 10 miles above posted speed limits could be fined as much as $100. No penalty points would be assessed, so insurance rates would be unaffected. The measure would require public hearings before installation of stationary speed cameras and would mandate that their locations be published in local newspapers.
The arguments on both bills were heated and fell along the same lines: public safety vs. civil liberties. Underlying both is the question of money. Revenue generated by catching speeders on camera is expected to be more than double what it would cost a locality to run the system. Montgomery County alone expects that the cameras would catch 140,400 speeders a year and generate as much as $10 million. The District, which has five mobile speed cameras, generated $20 million in 15 months, about twice what was expected. The bill requires that all revenue be used to enhance public safety, including that of pedestrians.
"In our district, the streets are clogged with traffic in the morning, so people turn off and go speeding through residential neighborhoods to try to get to work on time," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), the bill's sponsor. "We did a 24-hour study and found that 60 percent of the cars were going more than 10 miles over the speed limit," she said.
But Sen. Edward J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's), who led the opposition on both bills, invoked "Big Brother" and provided statistics to try to convince lawmakers that mistakes are made and that speed cameras are "not ready for prime time."
Final approval is expected today. A similar bill has yet to clear a House committee.
Emergency-Contraception Bill Killed
A Senate committee yesterday killed a measure that would have allowed women to get emergency contraception, including the so-called morning-after pill, directly from a pharmacist without having to see a doctor.
The 6 to 5 vote by the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs means the bill is dead for this session, according to its sponsor, Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld (D-Montgomery).
"We just couldn't get the votes, and it's a shame," Grosfeld said. "But we'll be back."
Earlier this week, the House of Delegates narrowly voted to approve the measure, which would have authorized pharmacists to dispense the emergency contraception without a prescription. The pill, a high-dosage birth control pill, is taken immediately after unprotected sex to prevent conception. It differs from RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, which is taken after conception has occurred and is used to induce miscarriage.
The legislation specified that only pharmacists with pre-established relationships with doctors could dispense emergency contraception. The state board that regulates the medical profession would have overseen the practice.
Proponents said the bill would have prevented unwanted pregnancies and reduced the need for abortion. Opponents argued that pharmacists who may not know a woman's medical history should not be dispensing prescriptions without a doctor's approval.
Antiabortion activists were particularly upset about a provision that would have allowed minors to obtain emergency contraception without their parents' knowledge or consent.
New Security in Driver's License
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday unveiled the state's first new driver's license in a decade designed to thwart underage drinkers and keep ahead of the counterfeiting industry.
"The security of our citizens is our No. 1 concern," Ehrlich said at a news conference outside the State House. "The new license is much more durable and much more secure."
The licenses, which have been three years and $40 million in the making, are covered with multicolored holograms to make them more difficult to counterfeit.
"We're trying to keep up with the crooks," said Anne S. Ferro, head of the state Motor Vehicle Administration.
The credit card-size license features Maryland's signature blue crab and is color-coded: blue for most motorists, green for commercial drivers, purple for moped users. Identification cards will be red, while temporary licenses will have a black border.
The biggest change will be for drivers under 21. Underage licenses will be formatted vertically, with the date on the front for easy age identification. Pictures will be a frontal head shot instead of profile.
To make it more difficult to counterfeit the state seal, the driver's signature and control number will overlap photos on all new licenses. A faint ghost photo will be in a corner, with the driver's birth date superimposed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.