- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

Republicans in Maryland’s Senate are denouncing plans by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. that would make it easier to end filibusters.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat, says he expects to go ahead with plans he first discussed earlier this year to change the filibuster rule.

If approved, a vote by three-fifths of the senators would be enough to end any attempt to “talk a bill to death” with nonstop debate. The current rules require a two-thirds vote.

Republicans — who are the minority party in the state — say the proposal is a bid by Mr. Miller for absolute power. If the measure is approved, the Republican Party would have less power to block legislation favored by Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus of the Eastern Shore says it appears that Mr. Miller is determined to rule the Senate as an “absolute monarch.”

• Crystal-clear opposition

Alarmed by a rise in methamphetamine traffic in the Shenandoah Valley, police and a newly elected Virginia state senator are seeking tougher penalties for dealers of the stimulant.

Trafficking in the drug is concentrated in and around Harrisonburg and along the Interstate 81 corridor. Law enforcement officials say it first appeared in the area about six years ago.

Local authorities have had to prosecute with penalties they consider to be too light for big-time pushers, said Tom Murphy, coordinator of the drug task force for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“The community leaders we have are well aware of the situation,” Mr. Murphy said. “In other parts of the state, they’re not as familiar with the problems of meth because they don’t have it in their back yard.”

State Sen.-elect Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, plans to introduce legislation at the upcoming assembly session that would provide methamphetamine with the same sentencing guidelines as cocaine.

Mr. Murphy, a special agent with the Virginia State Police Drug Enforcement Division, heads the RUSH Drug Task Force, an eight-person team that draws members from the Harrisonburg Police Department and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office. Over the past three years, RUSH has seized about 15 pounds of methamphetamine per year, he said.

Also called “crystal meth,” “speed,” “ice” and “crank,” methamphetamine is a stimulant that causes hyperactivity and euphoria. Users can remain awake for days at a time. They ingest the drug by smoking, snorting or taking it orally like a pill.

Mr. Obenshain plans to introduce a bill that would impose stiffer sentences on dealers caught with especially large amounts. Under state law, methamphetamine is handled the same as heroin, cocaine and other drugs considered among the most dangerous, but without the penalty enhancements for higher amounts of cocaine.

A conviction for making, possessing or distributing the stimulant is punishable by five to 40 years on the first offense and five years to life on the second offense. A third conviction is punishable by five years to life, but comes with a mandatory three-year imprisonment.

The idea that toughening those penalties will reduce the flow of drugs or the number of users has its doubters.

“All these penalties are already very stiff,” said Lennice Werth, a member of Virginians Against Drug Violence, a group that advocates an end to the drug war. “If the sentences are already long, making them longer is just going to cost more in incarceration. And you have to ask, is it going to be effective? There’s no evidence that it’s going to be effective.”

Mr. Murphy said, “I think it’s a deterrence, and it does make a difference.”

• Multilingual county

Anne Arundel County has posted a Korean translation of its “Guide to Emergency Preparedness” on the county’s Web site (www.aacounty.org/News/Current/KoreanGuide.cfm).

According to census figures, about 3,600 Korean immigrants live in the county.

English and Spanish versions of the guide were already posted on the Web site.

County officials mailed the guide to all county residents last year. The guide contains basic instructions for preparing for a variety of emergencies.

A printed copy of the guide is available by calling the county’s Emergency Operations Center at 410/222-8040.

• Land listing

Virginia is making it easier to find parks and protected open space, with a new online service.

The Conservation Lands database is the state’s first comprehensive listing of protected lands, according to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Included are lands owned by federal, state, regional and local governments; land preserves owned by nonprofit groups; and conservation easements held by various groups and land trusts around the state.

To access the information, go to the department’s Web site, www.dcr.state.va.us and click on “Land conservation.”

Until now the information was not available in one place. DCR spokeswoman Lois delBueno said the service has been years in the making and will be useful in many ways.

“For the average person, it’s probably going to be pretty generic,” Miss delBueno said. “But if you’re wondering about open space or conserved lands nearby or around the state, you should be able to get that information.”

She said the Web site can provide help to people looking for national parks, battlefields and the like. State and local parks and scenic rivers also are listed.

• Election brouhaha

Two Virginia circuit court judges have refused to temporarily block Bedford County’s Board of Supervisors and School Board from meeting next month because of disputed election results in the Big Island district.

But Judges Leyburn Mosby and James Updike have urged the two boards to voluntarily postpone their January meetings until after a three-judge panel determines the election results.

The hearing was requested by two candidates vying for a seat on the Board of Supervisors and two who are vying for a seat on the county School Board.

The losers in each closely contested race challenged the results after the county registrar said dozens of voters from a neighboring district improperly cast ballots in the Big Island district.

If the boards don’t postpone their January meetings, Judge Mosby agreed to a hearing on Wednesday in which he would reconsider the injunctions to force the postponements.

• Law and ordering

The sheriff and county warden in Queen Anne’s County, Md., are telling county commissioners that they should have separate facilities.

County officials believe a new building housing both the sheriff’s office and the detention center might save on construction costs. But Sheriff Charles Crossley and Warden LaMonte Cooke say the two departments would be better off apart for security reasons.

Four of the nine counties on the Eastern Shore have a combined facility.

Meanwhile, Queen Anne’s County commissioners are exploring the feasibility of a regional detention center with other counties on the Eastern Shore. Commission President Ben Cassell says he and Commissioner Joe Cupani attended a Dec. 18 meeting in Chestertown to discuss that idea.

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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