- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

ANNAPOLIS A suddenly called vote on a proposal to halt executions for a year became the anticlimactic end of the Maryland General Assembly session last night when the roll call machine malfunctioned leaving proponents disappointed that just 19 votes supporting the moratorium tallied although they were sure they had a majority.

The vote taken about 11:45 p.m. had held the potential to kill scores of proposals last night as Maryland's House and Senate scrambled last night to find common ground so they could vote on a logjam of stalled bills.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. worked throughout the last day of the 2001 session to find a compromise acceptable to opponents threatening to filibuster, and risk losing some popular bills, rather than than let the moratorium go to a vote.

A protest erupted in the Senate gallery about 10 p.m. when opponents of the death penalty rose, unfurled a banner and began chanting, "The Senate must face it, death row is racist" a reference to concerns that a disproportionate number (nine of 13) of death-row inmates are black.

State troopers quickly hustled more than 40 shouting dissidents from the balcony and escorted them down the marble stairs and outdoors.

About 45 minutes earlier, Mr. Miller told the Senate it was "doubtful" that a tax amnesty bill needed to fund about $30 million in mental-health coverage and $8 million in extra aid to needy school districts would make it to the Senate before the session adjourned at midnight.

Legislators failed to resolve differences between a loosely framed Senate proposal and a more detailed House plan designed to provide incentives to create charter schools in Maryland and to tap part of almost $200 million in federal funds available for starting costs.

As the session came to a close, Gov. Parris N. Glendening had won passage of virtually all items he had placed on his agenda even before yesterday including protections against discrimination for homosexuals, measures to track and prohibit race-based traffic stops, tougher drunken-driving laws and collective bargaining for non-faculty employees at state universities.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, also got support for most of the spending he proposed giving the state a $21.2 billion budget for the coming year.

Yesterday, on a warm, sunny day, Republicans opened red umbrellas outside the State House, taunting the governor for taking $400 million from the state's Rainy Day fund when the economy is still stable.

"I think we'll be fortunate if we don't [arrive] on the floor next session facing a $500 million deficit," said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, Howard and Prince George's Republican.

Mr. Glendening said the Republicans were crying wolf.

"They ought to be holding black umbrellas," Mr. Glendening said.

Responding to opponents' claims that he used his extraordinary budget power to move his agenda, Mr. Glendening said his "package passed because it's the right thing for Maryland."

While advocates of the moratorium on executions said they could win if the measure, already approved in the House, went to a vote in the Senate, they also knew they had little chance of taking that vote.

The legislature was scheduled to adjourn at midnight.

"The moratorium cannot be won we don't have enough votes for cloture," said Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, Baltimore Democrat.

Three attempts to limit floor debate Friday night and Saturday morning each netted 22 votes 10 short of the minimum and a clear sign to proponents they would have to look to other measures for added assurance against unfair imposition of the death penalty.

"You get what you can and cut your losses," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat.

Two proposals still in play late yesterday could console some moratorium proponents: a commission to study restoring voting rights of twice-convicted felons, who are disenfranchised under Maryland law, and making DNA testing available on demand for persons charged with serious crimes.

Late yesterday both houses acted to create an 11-member study commission that will look at other states' stances on voting rights for felons, and a House committee amended and approved the Senate DNA-testing bill.

Moving forward late was a proposal to give poor and elderly Marylanders a 30 percent discount on prescription drugs. Although the House and Senate had not yet agreed on a plan, stories about constituents numbering 100,000 to 250,000 in the state having to choose between food and heat or medicine have created a groundswell of support.

Other measures passed yesterday:

• Public schools across Maryland would have to teach gun-safety courses to students from kindergarten through 12th grade under legislation that passed yesterday.

Mr. Glendening, who supports the idea of teaching children the dangers of firearms, is expected to sign the measure into law.

There was no discussion in the Senate as the bill passed on a 36-10 roll call.

• When Marylanders go to the polls next year, most of them will be using the same type of voting machines under legislation that passed the General Assembly yesterday.

The bill is the product of a task force charged with looking at the state system and recommending changes to ensure that Maryland would not experience problems similar to those in Florida.

The bill, which is expected to be signed by Mr. Glendening, gives the state election board the authority to designate a voting system to be used in the 2002 elections.

The General Assembly also approved legislation setting up a statewide voter-registration system to reduce the chance that people will show up on Election Day and find their names are not on voter rolls, even though they thought they were registered.

• The Senate approved a bill requiring children under 16 to wear helmets while riding scooters or in-line skates on public roads and sidewalks.

A similar bill was killed in committee last year by lawmakers who felt it was up to parents to ensure the safety of their children. That legislation was prompted by students at a Reisterstown school who lost one of their classmates in 1998 to an in-line skating accident.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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