- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday signed a variety of bills into law, including legislation on drunken driving, sexual offenders and the proposed merger of CareFirst.

"Working with the legislature, we are making Maryland safer, protecting our children, and ensuring that health care is affordable," Mr. Glendening said.

The 190 bills signed yesterday included legislation to prohibit drivers and passengers of motor vehicles from holding open containers of alcohol. Another toughens penalties on repeat offenders of drunken driving, imposing a mandatory suspension of the driver's licenses for at least one year.

By making the measures law, Maryland earns about $7 million in federal highway construction funds.

Mr. Glendening also signed two bills known as "Christopher's Laws," named for Christopher Ausherman, a 9-year-old Frederick boy who was killed on Nov. 19, 2000. The killer was a mentally retarded man who had spent 23 of the last 28 years in prison for assaulting a woman, raping an 11-year-old boy and assaulting children in two other cases.

The laws require the lifetime registration of violent sexual offenders and allow judges to sentence repeat violent sexual offenders to life in prison without parole.

"Unfortunately, it took the tragic and very violent murder of Christopher at the hands of a recently released inmate with a long history of incarcerations" to enact the bill, said Delegate Sue Hecht, Frederick Democrat and sponsor of the legislation.

Mrs. Hecht was joined at the bill signing by Christopher's mother, Mary Voit, and his brother, Jesse, 12. Mrs. Voit declined comment. Elmer Spencer Jr., the ex-convict found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering Christopher, is set to be sentenced Tuesday.

The governor also signed a package of bills placing restrictions on the proposed sale of CareFirst BlueCross/BlueShield to a California-based health insurance company.

The legislation would prohibit CareFirst executives from collecting $33.2 million in bonuses that were part of the deal negotiated with WellPoint. It also prohibits CareFirst from moving its headquarters out of Maryland and gives the governor and the legislature 90 days to review the state insurance commissioner's decision, if he approves the sale.

CareFirst, which is nonprofit, is Maryland's largest health insurer and traditionally has insured people who cannot obtain coverage from for-profit firms.

The legislation will "make sure we have access to affordable health care and that any transition is done with the public's interest [in mind]," Mr. Glendening said.

The governor also signed a few additional measures intended to enhance the state's readiness for a potential terrorist attack. He signed the bulk of those measures April 9.

Those signed yesterday included the Maryland Security Protection Act of 2002, which defines the crime of terrorism in Maryland law and includes it as an act for which local police can use wiretapping.

Civil rights advocates have argued that the law could be misused because it is unlikely that local law enforcement will be investigating terrorism.

Mr. Glendening also signed legislation providing re-employment protections to National Guardsmen called to active state duty, as well as $100,000 death benefits to the families of those killed serving the state.

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