- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Legislation boosting sentences for felons convicted of gun crimes continues to gain support in the Maryland General Assembly, with House Republicans introducing a bill yesterday designed to complement existing Democratic bills.

Under a bipartisan, bicameral initiative sponsored by Delegate Joan Cadden, Anne Arundel Democrat, previously convicted felons charged with a gun crime face a five-year mandatory sentence without the possibility of plea bargains or parole. The bill is modeled after the Project Exile program to reduce gun crime, which started in Richmond in 1997.

Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, Calvert Republican, yesterday introduced legislation to toughen Exile by preventing appeals to a three-judge panel.

"These two bills are not in competition with each other. They are both complementary and they both need to go through and they both should go through," Mr. O'Donnell said. "They're both essential."

If Exile convictions can be appealed to the three-judge panel, Mr. O'Donnell said, it makes the mandatory prison stretch less ominous. If the sentence time is a certainty, fewer criminals will commit gun crimes, he said.

Project Exile is one of several gun-control bills proposed this session. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has legislation mandating trigger locks and the development of guns that can be fired only by authorized users. Included in his package is an Exile-like program.

Both Mr. O'Donnell and Mrs. Cadden's bills need to be passed in order to start Maryland's Project Exile, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said.

However, Mrs. Cadden, a co-sponsor on Mr. O'Donnell's bill, disagrees. While eliminating the appeal option would enhance the legislation, it is not essential to Exile's effectiveness. She said there were no plans to incorporate Mr. O'Donnell's idea into her bill.

"We really want both bills to go on their own merits," said Mrs. Cadden, whose proposal has 58 co-sponsors including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, and Mr. O'Donnell.

Exile's prospects for passage in the House Judiciary Committee are uncertain. Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr., Prince George's Democrat, said he doesn't support mandatory sentences, but he hadn't looked over either bill.

Mr. Vallario, who sponsored the legislation creating the three-judge panel last session, said there could be a lot of support for Exile.

"[Members] have curiosity and there's a lot of talk about the bills and … the concept," Mr. Vallario said.

Exile also has gotten federal attention. Mr. Ehrlich was at Mr. O'Donnell's press conference to support his fellow Republican's legislation. Mr. Ehrlich, who served eight years in the House of Delegates before being elected to Congress in 1994, still has close ties to legislators here and said he supports all pending Exile legislation.

"This is asking people to enforce the law before they create new ones," he said.

Gun advocates and opponents support the bill because, Mr. Ehrlich said, it focuses "on bad guys with guns."

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