- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday signed 171 new laws, including legislation to strengthen regulation of young drivers, overhaul how the state oversees early childhood education and require background checks before children are turned over to guardians.

The guardianship bill resulted from the case of a 15-year-old Baltimore girl who was beaten, starved and locked in a filthy room by her guardian for months before she died in December 2002.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat and sponsor of the bill, carried an enlarged photograph of Ciara Jobes into the State House reception room, where Mr. Ehrlich, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch spent almost two hours signing bills and posing for photographs with lawmakers and interested citizens.

?Ciara is smiling down from heaven today,? Miss Gladden said.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy said the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals checks out people before they are allowed to adopt pets, ?but we would give our children to guardians and not know if they were mentally fit. It was an outrage.?

She said the new law will require that a background check that includes a mental assessment be presented to judges before they can approve guardianship arrangements.

Another of Miss Jessamy’s top legislative priorities — a bill aimed at criminals who use force or threats of force to keep witnesses from testifying against them — was also signed by Mr. Ehrlich.

But Miss Jessamy, who described the bill as a ?toothless tiger,? and Mr. Ehrlich both said they will be back next year to try to strengthen the bill.

It was weakened by the House Judiciary Committee, which refused to allow prosecutors to submit written statements about witness intimidation efforts when witnesses refuse to testify.

?We made real progress this year. We will make more next year,? said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

Four of the new laws approved by the governor deal with drivers under age 21.

One will require new drivers to wait six months instead of four months after they get their learner’s permits to apply for provisional licenses. It also sets the minimum age for a provisional license at 16 years, 3 months and for a full license at 17 years and 9 months, two months later than the current age in both instances.

A second law will require young drivers with provisional licenses who are convicted of moving violations to wait 18 months after their provisional licenses are restored to get a regular license.

One of new laws will prohibit inexperienced drivers from transporting passengers under age 18 who are not relatives unless there is a supervising driver 21 or older in the vehicle. Another will make it illegal for drivers with learner’s permits or provisional licenses to use cell phones while driving.

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