- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings yesterday implored a state Senate committee to approve a bill that would rename Baltimore-Washington International Airport after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“I have not come here to ask you to pass this bill,” he told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I have come here to beg you to pass this bill. This is that important to me.”

Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, also dismissed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s suggestion that the University of Maryland School of Law be named after the U.S. Supreme Court’s first black jurist instead.

“I don’t want to hear this stuff about naming a building after him,” the congressman said. “Name a gateway after him. He deserves it.”

Mr. Cummings’ comments were the first of several remarks from community leaders and activists advocating renaming the airport after Justice Marshall during a spirited committee hearing yesterday.

University of Maryland law school professor Larry Gibson told the panel that recognizing Justice Marshall’s contributions to the state, the country and the civil rights movement is critical.

“If we do not do it, it will be a matter of permanent enduring shame to this state,” he said.

Former Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater even suggested to the committee the option of changing the airport’s name to Thurgood Marshall BWI or BWI Thurgood Marshall.

But hotel owner Louis L. Zagarino, the only person who testified against the bill yesterday, expressed concern about how the airport’s new name would be marketed.

“BWI is in the fight of its life, and the next four years are critical,” said Mr. Zagarino, owner of the Comfort Inn Airport, the Sleep Inn and Inn & Suites Airport hotels. “And any change at this juncture is critical.”

House Deputy Majority Whip Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat and sponsor of the bill, has said the change would cost the state about $250,000 because not every sign would need to be replaced.

State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat and committee chairwoman, yesterday asked Mr. Burns why he did not cross-file the bill in the Senate at the start of the legislative session.

He said it would have been “dead on arrival” — referring to his public falling-out with state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat.

“And that’s politics,” Mr. Cummings added as he left the hearing.

Mrs. Kelley said she was not aware of the bill until recently.

“This has nothing to do with the election,” she said. “If the bill comes to the floor, I will probably vote for it … .

“I just think it’s sad that it does not look like it is something that would be adequately implemented. It just doesn’t seem appropriate,” Mrs. Kelley said. “I think Marshall’s contribution was so significant that anything that we are going to do needs to be well-thought-out and well-executed.”

The chairman of a House committee suggested a compromise yesterday on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s stalled witness-protection bill, but he got a skeptical reception from the governor’s legislative staff.

The witness-intimidation bill would strengthen penalties for killing potential witnesses in criminal trials or threatening them or their relatives to scare them out of testifying.

It includes a so-called “hearsay” exception, which would allow statements given to police by witnesses to be admitted as evidence in court if prosecutors could convince a judge that the witness was not available to testify because of intimidation by the defendant.

Opponents of the bill — such as Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — object to the hearsay exception, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of defendants to cross-examine their accusers.

During a Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Mr. Vallario, a trial lawyer who has been holding up the legislation, suggested that the bill be amended to allow use only of sworn and notarized statements. That suggestion was taken from a proposed change in state court rules that has been submitted to the Court of Appeals. The court has not acted on the proposal.

“I think Day 84 [of the legislative session] is a little late to start negotiating,” Ehrlich aide Donald Hogan said. “If he was really serious, he’d have done something earlier.”

Jervis Finney, the governor’s chief legal counsel, was a little more blunt when asked what he would tell Mr. Ehrlich about Mr. Vallario’s proposal. “I’m going to tell him as far as we can see, he’s still stonewalling,” Mr. Finney said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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