- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

Two actions taken this week by Gov. Martin O’Malley make clear that even in Maryland, one of the most liberal states in the union, politicians are very reluctant to be seen as soft on crime: his veto of legislation that would have made twice-convicted drug dealers eligible for parole after serving just 25 percent of their sentences and his signing of legislation to abolish parole for violent sexual predators. The latter legislation signed into law by Mr. O’Malley implements “Jessica’s Law,” named after Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

In mid-March, it appeared that the bill faced an uphill battle — to put it mildly. Senate President Mike Miller was not a supporter, and Sen. Brian Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, was strongly opposed to the bill. But Mr. Frosh overplayed his hand, forcing Mark Klaas, the father of a murdered child who had come from out of state to testify in support of the legislation, to cool his heels for nearly five and a half hours while the committee dealt with less important bills. Mr. Miller was properly outraged by this behavior, and he forced Mr. Frosh to permit the bill to be voted out of committee and come to the Senate floor, where it passed on a 43-3 vote.

But the bill still faced an uphill fight in the House of Delegates, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario was strongly opposed. (Mr. O’Malley had not taken a position, but last year Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, arguably the governor’s closest political ally, had joined Mr. Vallario in opposing enactment of “Jessica’s Law” while serving in the House of Delegates.) Then, in the wake of an intense campaign launched by a grass-roots organization called Citizens for Jessica’s Law in Maryland, with substantial assists from local talk radio and Fox New Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, the opposition suddenly collapsed. Mr. Vallario convened the Judiciary Committee and passed the bill. When it was debated and approved unanimously by the full House a few days later, Mr. Vallario sounded like it was his idea to start with.

Under the parole-for-drug dealers bill, twice-convicted traffickers who had not committed violent crimes would be eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their mandatory 10-year sentence. The reduced sentences for drug dealers, which passed the House by a narrow five-vote margin, were one of the top priorities for the Legislative Black Caucus, which comprises many of the governor’s strongest supporters. But Mr. O’Malley, saying he regarded drug dealing as a “violent crime” because of the human suffering it creates, vetoed the bill.

So, in one of the most liberal states in the country, a Democratic governor and a Democrat-dominated legislature joined forces to abolish parole for violent sex offenders, and that same Democratic governor has vetoed a bill to provide parole for drug dealers. When it comes to crime, there apparently are some limits to the appeal of orthodox, one-party liberalism in Maryland.

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