- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Twice-convicted felons would be allowed to vote in Maryland under a measure the Senate approved on a preliminary vote yesterday.
Criminals with one conviction for an "infamous crime" now can vote in Maryland after they serve their sentences and pay any fines or restitution. Infamous crimes are offenses involving acts of deceit, and they include using fraudulent identification and committing murder. Roughly 500 offenses qualify as infamous crimes, according to the state's attorney general.
The Senate bill like one approved by the House would require those convicted of a second infamous crime to complete their sentences and pay fines and restitution before they could return to the voting booth. But the Senate legislation would permanently disenfranchise anyone convicted of two crimes of violence.
As first introduced in both the House and Senate this year, the bills would have restored voting rights as soon as sentences were served and payments were made, regardless of how many times the person had been convicted.
The Legislative Black Caucus has pushed for the restoration of voting rights based on the recommendations of a national panel led by former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter. Maryland is one of 13 states that ban felons from voting in some cases once they have completed their sentences.
"In Maryland, we call ourselves the Free State, and in this case we are more conservative than the rest of the nation," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore city.
But most of the Senate's 13 Republicans and a few Democrats voted for proposals to limit the bill further even to repeal some rights granted almost 28 years ago.
Amendments that would have excluded people convicted of violent crimes murder, second felonies, rape, treason and child rape, for instance all were defeated.
"Certain people should never stop paying for their sins, even if between them and their maker the slate is clean," said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties.
"We have a contract with society [and] people who have committed violent crimes particularly have broken that contract," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick County Republican.
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat, said getting convicts who had served their time to participate in society, including through voting, would benefit society.
"There are 50,000 kids whose fathers and mothers are in our institutions … if any of those guys come out, you'd want them to assume responsibilities for their lives and their kids. Voting is part of that responsibility," Mr. Currie said.
Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, Baltimore Democrat, said the black caucus sees Maryland's voting prohibitions as the latest in a long line of ways to keep blacks from voting.
"Originally, blacks by law couldn't vote, then the law changed and you could vote if you owned land," Mr. Hughes said. "Many of us would admit the criminal justice system in America is not fair to African-Americans."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is generally supportive of the change, but the less permissive Senate version is "closer to what [he was] looking at," said Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill.
Clergy and groups of interfaith activists in Baltimore are upset about the measure being weakened, Mrs. Kelley said.
"Either you believe in redemption or you don't," Mrs. Kelley said.

Legislation to stiffen penalties for operating commercial vehicles in an unsafe way died yesterday in a Senate committee.
The House passed the bill March 8 on a vote of 88-39. But the bill got an unfavorable report yesterday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
It would have increased penalties for drivers found responsible for a crash that caused fatalities or injuries if it was determined the driver knew the vehicle was being operated in an illegal manner.
The legislation was inspired in part by two deadly crashes in the past three years that involved improperly loaded trucks.

Top legislative leaders sat down with Mr. Glendening yesterday to try to begin resolving serious differences between the Senate and House on key fiscal issues.
Participants in the meeting say little progress has been made, but that they will keep talking.
A sticking point is whether to increase the cigarette tax by 34 cents and what to do with the revenue.
Senate budget leaders want to use all of the money to begin implementing a plan to increase aid to public schools by $1.1 billion over four years.
House leaders say the state should not embark on an expensive new program when tax revenues have stopped growing because of the national recession.


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