- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law dozens of bills yesterday to protect the environment, including a law tightening car-emissions standards and a permanent ban on catching diamondback terrapins.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, also signed one of the most divisive measures of this year’s lawmaking session — a bill that makes voting easier for former felons.

The highlight of the signing ceremony was a bill making Maryland the eleventh state to require tighter car emissions than the federal government. The new law means that by model year 2011, new cars sold in Maryland will have to meet California emissions standards. The change will reduce greenhouse gas emissions coming from cars.

“This is something we’ve been working on for years,” said Brad Heavner, director of the advocacy group Environment Maryland. “It’s going to make a big difference.”

Mr. O’Malley also signed a bill to require Maryland to get 2 percent of its electricity from solar energy by 2022. Also signed into law was the end to a commercial harvest of diamondback terrapins, a hallmark critter of the Chesapeake Bay.

Others on the list included on a bill to require low-phosphate dishwashing detergent, a bill to end oyster and clam dredging in the Atlantic coastal bays and a measure to set new storm-water rules for developers. The governor called the recent session a big win for the environment.

“The land and the water has been the heart of our state … and I’m very proud of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley joined House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, in posing for cameras with a pair of diamondback terrapins brought for the signing ceremony.

A bill signed with less fanfare was the felon-voting measure, which removes a three-year waiting period before felons can vote after completing their sentences, including probation and restitution. The bill also removes a permanent prohibition on voting for people convicted of more than one serious felony.

Republicans in attendance criticized the new law.

“It’s a bad idea,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel, Cecil County Republican. He said the move is aimed at boosting Democratic numbers in an already Democratic state. “This is just a mechanism for generating a larger constituency for the majority.”

Last year, then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, promised to veto a similar proposal.

The sponsor of the felon-voting law, Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, Prince George’s Democrat, said few ex-felons would seek the vote, but those who do should have the right once they’ve repaid their debt.

“We have disenfranchised ex-felons who have worked hard to come back into the community,” she said.

The new voting law could affect about 52,000 people in Maryland, said Kara Gotsch of the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

Another voting-related bill signed into law was a change to move the state’s presidential preference primary up three weeks next year to Feb. 12.

However, most attention yesterday went to the green-friendly bills signed into law. Democrats said the session that wrapped up earlier this month showed solid gains for environmental advocates.

“It was an environmental year,” Mr. Miller said.

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