- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

ANNAPOLIS The state's black bear population, concentrated mostly in Western Maryland, has doubled since 1995, and that increase has brought a call to end the hunting ban imposed in 1953 because of the low population.
Opponents of hunting say that policy likely will be changed now that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is in office.
But under legislation considered Monday by state delegates, hunting for black bears would be prohibited for at least six more years.
The state's bear population, which now stands at about 400, is still too small, said Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Prince George's County Democrat and sponsor of the moratorium bill.
Bears reproduce slowly, she said, giving birth to just one to three cubs at a time, so hunting them could set back their population by decades.
"The population hasn't recovered to the point where an open season is in their best interest," Mrs. Frush said.
Bear hunting opponents, including biologists from the Humane Society of the United States, also argued that a hunting season would not necessarily reduce nuisance complaints because hunters could not target the same bears that eat crops, attack livestock and raid trash cans.
Complaints about bears causing damage to crops and property have been rising, from 196 such complaints and sightings in 1996 to 617 in 2000, said the Department of Natural Resources.
Many Western Maryland residents have been trying to legalize hunting again, and Mr. Ehrlich has said he would support a bear season if state wildlife managers concur.
In 2000, DNR biologists concluded that the population could support a hunt, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration rejected that recommendation. Legislation to restart a black bear hunting season passed the House of Delegates last year but died in a Senate committee.
The DNR appointed a task force about 18 months ago to study the burgeoning bruin population. The task force's recommendation, which will be presented to the new DNR secretary, Ronald Franks, in the next two weeks, is expected to include the resumption of bear hunting. In exchange, the state would eliminate its program to compensate farmers for crop damage caused by bears.

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee rejected Mr. Ehrlich's nominee for secretary of the environment Monday, but Republican senators vowed to try to reverse the decision in a vote by the full Senate expected on Friday.
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Somerset County Republican, said he thinks enough Democrats will vote with Republicans to approve Mr. Ehrlich's nomination of Lynn Buhl unless Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's County Democrat, exerts pressure to uphold the 10-9 committee vote.
"If the president starts strong-arming people, then it's going to be tough," he said.
Five Democrats joined the four Republicans on the committee in voting for the former official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. All 10 of the opposing votes came from Democrats.
"The administration is deeply disappointed," said Shareese DeLeaver, spokeswoman for the governor. "There is a renewed vigor and energy in our efforts to ensure that secretary-designate Buhl is confirmed."
Mr. Stoltzfus said the vote threatens the spirit of cooperation in the General Assembly as lawmakers enter what is expected to be a tough final month of the session.
"The Senate has never, never, never rejected an appointee of the governor," he said.
But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, who made the motion to reject the appointment, said the Republican Senate Caucus voted against two of Mr. Glendening's nominees.
Mr. Miller said the vote "is not a partisan vote. There has been no party call."
The vote was a victory for environmental groups, who said Miss Buhl lacks the experience and strong commitment to the environment to fill such an important job.

A bill that would halt executions in Maryland until the summer of 2005 is scheduled for introduction on the Senate floor today.
The bill was approved Friday by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on a 6-5 vote and is sure to stir up debate.
The legislation 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.
Mr. Ehrlich has said he will veto the moratorium if it gets through both the Senate and House.

A House committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill that supporters say would expand health insurance coverage and help make health care affordable for all Marylanders.
The bill would require all employers to contribute at least 5 percent of their total payroll for health benefits for employees. The minimum contribution would be 8 percent for companies with more than 1,000 workers.
The bill is supported by the Health Care for All Coalition, which is made up of more than 2,000 organizations representing churches, labor unions and civic organizations.
Opponents say the plan would place an unreasonable financial burden on many employers, especially owners of small businesses.

Two Washington-area prosecutors Glenn C. Ivey of Prince George's County and Douglas F. Gansler of Montgomery County are backing legislation aimed at attacking Internet crime in Maryland.
One of the bills, sponsored by Delegate Susan Lee, Montgomery County Democrat, would increase the penalty for identity theft from five years in prison to 20 years. Miss Lee said complaints about identity theft more than doubled over the past two years in the county.
A second bill would make it illegal to defraud someone through Internet auction services such as EBay.
Miss Lee says more than three-fourths of the Internet-fraud claims filed in Maryland come from people who have lost money through online auctions.

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