- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

1:50 p.m.

ANNAPOLIS — Lawmakers convened a special session this morning and said they intend to pass by tonight a bill that would reduce an electricity rate increase.

However, a bill that would toughen penalties against sex offenders appears to have little chance of passing.

An electricity rate reduction bill similar to one the House approved but the Senate rejected in the General Assembly’s regular session this year was introduced in both chambers this morning.

Senators who had opposed the bill now say they support it. The bill would delay until June 2008 a 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s (BGE) rates for its 1.1 million residential customers, reducing the increase to 15 percent for at least the next year.

BGE’s rate increase currently is set to begin July 1.

“I’ve learned about the bill. I’ve learned about the reality of the options, and this is probably the best we’re going to get,” says Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat.

Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, says he voted against the bill in April on procedural grounds, saying it was “rammed down” the legislature’s throat at the last second without proper debate.

The new bill, he says, “appears to be, at least in terms of rate relief, a reasonable plan.”

Mr. Harris adds, however, that a provision to fire the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) and bring it under the Democrat-controlled legislature’s control is “way overboard.”

Other Republicans say they plan to fight Democrats’ takeover of the PSC.

“We shouldn’t be firing people that have been appointed to office because of someone’s opinion,” says House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican.

“There is a heavy dose of politics here. They want to scapegoat certain people. It’s unfortunate,” he says.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, has said the Democrats have a “veto-proof” majority to enact the bill.

Meanwhile, a bill that would crack down on sexual predators appears stalled since Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, declined to hold a committee hearing on it.

Mr. Ehrlich introduced the bill under Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s name. The Senate leader, a Prince George’s County Democrat, promised yesterday to introduce the bill.

But when Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican, pressed Mr. Frosh to hold a hearing on the bill, Mr. Frosh said nothing.

“We only called this special session … to deal with electric rates,” Mr. Miller said afterward. “[Mr. Ehrlich] is the chief executive. We want to work with him.”

Mr. Miller said that without a public hearing for the bill, it would be more difficult to pass it.

The legislation, called Jessica’s Law, would set a mandatory 25-year minimum prison sentence for sex crimes against children.

Jessica’s Law is named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was raped and killed last year by a convicted sex offender. Similar laws have been enacted in 20 states.

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