- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

ANNAPOLIS A version of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "smart-gun" bill will be on the Senate floor today, minus a mandate for smart guns, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday.
Lawmakers have been struggling all week to craft a compromise that will satisfy the Democratic governor and enough members of the House of Delegates and state Senate to become law.
Mr. Glendening said yesterday that to get his approval, any legislation must require handguns sold in Maryland to be equipped with internal locks that prevent them from being fired until the lock is disengaged.
But Mr. Miller said, "If integrated locks are part of the package, they will be less than what Smith & Wesson agreed to." The compromise bill reportedly will mandate internal locks by 2003, nine months later than gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson approved in an agreement forged with the Clinton administration to end lawsuits filed by counties and cities across the country.
That technology still in the testing phase would use fingerprint recognition and other high-tech methods to personalize a gun and prevent it from being fired by unauthorized users.
But the bill would give the legislature authority to determine whether to mandate smart-gun sales undoing Mr. Glendening's plan to leave most of that decision to a commission that the governor would largely control.
It was not clear yesterday what would be used to get the smart-gun bill to the floor, although Mr. Miller said what happens depends on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where six of 10 members oppose Mr. Glendening's bill.
"We are trying not to go to another committee, but whether they like it or not, it's time to move forward," Mr. Miller said.
One possibility likely to be used, sources said, is a Senate rule allowing a member to move that a bill be brought back to the floor, where the Senate could sit as a committee of the whole.
Even there, the vote would be "extremely close," Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Walter M. Baker said.
Mr. Baker, Cecil County Democrat, said even eliminating asking legislators to vote on "a concept" which he said is all "smart guns" are now would not be enough to win his vote or that of many legislators.
The centerpiece of the new proposal integrated locks are "Mickey Mouse gadgets," Mr. Baker said.
While a filibuster which would require 32 of 47 votes to break could slow the compromise bill's progress, Mr. Glendening's spokesman Mike Morrill said it would be hard to defend.
"I don't understand why anyone would filibuster a bill that saves lives," Mr. Morrill said. "We are going to have a strong bill that puts us in forefront of nation in protecting children's lives and calling for responsible gun ownership."
* * *
Legislators turned back a Democrat-backed initiative that would have allowed the Parole Commission to bypass the governor and release prisoners sentenced to life (but not life without the possibility of parole).
Law-and-order Democrats joined the minority party lawmakers to defeat the bill which House Republican Whip Robert L. Flanagan said was intended to "get the governor off the hook" for his campaign promise not to parole anyone sentenced to life.
Mr. Glendening announced in 1995 he would not sign off on any requests for parole from life sentences as long as he was governor, even though hundreds of people now in prison are or will be eligible under the law for parole in as few as 15 years.
The initial vote was 71-68 against. The bill, offered by the House Judiciary Committee, would have allowed the commission to parole inmates without the governor's approval. It failed by slightly larger margins on two subsequent roll calls when supporters tried unsuccessfully to revive the bill.
Delegate Joseph Vallario, Prince George's Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told the House there are inmates in their 70s who have been in prison for more than 40 years who have no chance of parole because of the governor's policy. He said 280 persons have been in prison more than 25 years.
The bill would have allowed the commission, by a unanimous vote, to approve parole after 25 years for inmates serving life sentences, and by a majority vote after 35 years. It would not have applied to criminals sentenced to death or given sentences of life without parole.
Mr. Vallario said Mr. Glendening has, in effect, unilaterally changed state law by refusing to consider parole for inmates who have a legal right to apply for it.
* * *
The Senate killed a bill that supporters said is needed to help Maryland's small wine industry.
The bill would have allowed Marylanders to buy a license from the Comptroller's Office to order up to one case of wine a month from wineries in other states to be shipped to their homes.
Maryland law now prohibits residents from buying directly from wineries. As a result, other states will not let their residents order from Maryland wineries.
* * *
Legislation to create a crime of homicide by aggressive driving received unanimous approval in the House.
A similar bill has passed the Senate, making it likely one or both will be sent to Mr. Glendening.
The bill was passed at the request of state prosecutors, who say there should be a jail term for aggressive drivers who cause the death of an innocent person. They now are subject only to a fine.
* * *
A plan to use part of the state sales tax to help to pay the cost of operating mass transit systems won approval in the House.
The bill sponsored by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is intended to make more money available for highway construction.
Supporters say too much of the gasoline tax and the fees paid by motorists is being diverted into mass transit, leaving too little money to build and repair highways and bridges.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is not expected to get as warm a reception as it did in the House.
* * *
Members of the House agreed to accept recommendations from their leaders on how the state should spend most of the money from the settlement of the lawsuit against tobacco companies.
The House plan would spend almost $30 million a year on anti-smoking programs and about $44 million a year on health programs to reduce deaths from cancer and heart and lung diseases.
The proposal also would direct about $10 million annually into programs for drug addicts.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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