- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley is set to sign a statewide smoking ban and tougher penalties for repeat child-sex offenders Thursday.

Advocates for tougher sex-crime penalties and state Republicans said they are pleased that Mr. O’Malley will sign what is known as Jessica’s Law, which they sponsored in the General Assembly session.

“The fact is [Mr. O’Malley] is a dad, and a good dad,” said Joan Harris, vice president of Citizens for Jessica’s Law in Maryland. “I can’t imagine him wanting to keep this from protecting the children of Maryland.”

The law will impose mandatory sentencing for repeat child-sex offenders.

Mrs. Harris helped lead a statewide lobbying campaign for the bill, whose passage was a surprise victory for Republicans in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

“I’m really glad that [Mr. O’Malley] is going to sign it,” said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford County Republican and lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “So far he’s been a man of his word to me. I thank him and look forward to seeing him on Thursday.”

Mr. O’Malley also is set to make Maryland one of at least 17 states to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

“The American Cancer Society is very excited about the governor signing this bill,” said Bonita Pennino, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. “It will be a big victory for individuals in this state.”

Maryland banned smoking in public places indoors in 1995, but exempted bars and restaurants.

The statewide ban gained momentum this year after the Baltimore City Council voted to end smoking in bars and restaurants.

The law will takes effect Feb. 1, after state health officials draft regulations for bars and restaurants applying for three-year hardship waivers.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, also is considering his first veto, of a bill that would grant repeat drug offenders the possibility of parole.

“I’m not inclined to sign that bill,” he said Thursday on WWRC-AM radio. “I’m not sure that I can sign a bill that would do away with the penalties we have in Maryland or lessen the penalties we have for second-time drug dealers.”

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