- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. made a last-minute push for a compromise on legalizing slot machines during a hastily convened hearing yesterday of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Miller said he is willing to accept the House’s proposed slots venue — Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County — if that chamber would agree to the Senate’s plan for a commission that would pick other sites.

“All I am asking is just a little baby step forward so we can craft a compromise,” the Prince George’s Democrat told the committee.

But Delegate Clarence Davis, who heads the subcommittee that will craft the bill, told The Washington Times that he will recommend that delegates “amend the Senate bill to look like the House bill.”

“And I will do that so we can move the bill,” said Mr. Davis, Baltimore Democrat. “So that it can get back to the Senate, which will then set up the possibility of a conference committee. That keeps the issue alive.”

Earlier this session, which is scheduled to adjourn Monday, the Senate amended the House slots bill and returned it to the lower chamber.

The Democratic-controlled House and Senate have not convened a panel to resolve differences between their slots bills.

The House plan would authorize 9,500 machines in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties and Rocky Gap — down from the 15,500 machines at seven venues sought by the Senate and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. It also calls for all slots revenue to be used for school construction.

The Senate’s version would designate $150 million from slots revenue to be spent on school construction each year for eight years.

Mr. Ehrlich, who estimates that slots would generate as much as $800 million a year in fees and taxes for the state, had earmarked $100 million for school construction.

Despite the stalemate, Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick said a resolution is possible. “We have three days left, which is a lifetime,” he said.

• • •

The House yesterday approved a watered-down version of Mr. Ehrlich’s legislation to crack down on witness intimidation.

In a 131-4 vote, the chamber passed the bill, one of the governor’s key legislative proposals that had been mired in a committee until this week. It now goes to the Senate.

The legislation would increase the penalty for felony witness intimidation from five years to 20 years in prison. It also would expand the number of offenses that could be considered witness intimidation, including solicitation of another person to intimidate or harm a witness.

In its original form, the bill would have given prosecutors wide latitude to use witnesses’ written statements at trial in lieu of live testimony, but critics said the measure violated a defendants’ constitutional right to confront an accuser. The House-approved version would limit prosecutors’ ability to use written statements.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and other supporters of the governor’s proposal said the compromise version lacks prosecutorial “teeth” to make it effective.

Still, delegates who voted for the bill say it is a step in the right direction.

“I liked the bill as introduced. But in the legislative process, sometimes you take what you can get,” said Delegate Neil Quinter, Howard Democrat. “It is a significant step forward. It really jacks up the penalty.”

Delegate Jill P. Carter, one of the four lawmakers to vote against the bill, said the legislation is useless.

“The truth is, this bill does nothing to protect our citizens,” the Baltimore Democrat said on the House floor. “If a statement is being used at trial, it is because there has already been a failure [of the system] and the witness has been harmed.”

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