- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) State senators voted unanimously yesterday to kill a bill that would have required priests to report some information on child abuse that may have been heard in the confessional booth.
The bill, rejected by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, would have required clergy members to report any information about child abuse learned in confession unless it was a direct admission by the abuser. That meant they would have been required to report information provided by victims or from third parties, such as the wife of an abuser.
Roman Catholic officials had lobbied vehemently against the measure, saying it would violate church canon mandating that priests keep confidential anything heard in the sacrament of reconciliation. The bill had generated tremendous public response, and committee members received hundreds of e-mails and phone messages on the matter.
Maryland law requires clergy to report instances of child abuse but contains exceptions for any communication under canon law, church doctrine or practice. Proponents of the tightened restrictions said clergy can interpret that too broadly, allowing a group that is in a position to learn about child abuse to avoid reporting it.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery County Democrat, acknowledged there were problems with the bill and voted against it, but said she would consider bringing revised legislation back next year.
"I think there's a real problem here," she said. "I think it was brought out in the testimony big time."

A Senate committee approved a bill yesterday that would halt executions in Maryland until July 2005.
The bill, approved on a 6-5 vote, also would set up a commission to review a recent University of Maryland death-penalty study and conduct its own study of how capital punishment cases are handled by prosecutors and courts.
TGov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is opposed to the moratorium, said he does not expect that the bill will make its through the Senate and House of Delegates.
"If it reaches my desk, however, I'll be sure to veto it," he said.
Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat and sponsor of a similar bill in the House, said she was "absolutely elated" that the bill made it out of committee and will go to the Senate floor for debate.
"This is the No. 1 priority of the black caucus," Mrs. Marriott said.
Asked about the veto threat, she said the caucus has not pressured Mr. Ehrlich so far to sign the bill, but, "I think it's time to ratchet it up."
The bill was approved after brief discussion in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the committee, said the bill would not stop prosecutors from seeking the death penalty and would not stop judges or juries from sentencing murderers to die by injection.
"They could be sentenced during the period of the moratorium, but they could not be executed," he said.

The state Senate gave final approval yesterday to a bill that cracks down on drivers who fill up with gasoline and take off without paying.
The bill would make revoking someone's driver's license the penalty for so-called drive-offs from the pumps.
Under the proposal, the Motor Vehicle Administration could suspend a person's driver's license for up to one month after a first conviction for stealing gas. The 30-day suspension would be mandatory after a second conviction.

Mr. Ehrlich's ambitious plan for bringing charter schools to the state has stalled in a Senate committee while the administration tries to rally support for changes to the bill.
The bill was headed for approval Wednesday, but an Ehrlich ally on the panel asked for a delay so changes could be considered.
The bill was similar to one introduced by the administration but did not include key elements sought by Mr. Ehrlich. They include a proposal to allow charter school teachers to opt out of collective-bargaining agreements and a proposal to create an independent authority to approve the creation of charter schools.
The current bill would make unionization automatic and would force organizers of charter schools to take their proposals first to hostile local school boards.

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