- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A measure to fine certain professionals $1,000 if they fail to report evidence of child abuse advanced in the Maryland Senate yesterday after lawmakers debated whether it was wise to make the failure to report abuse a crime.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor if educators, human services workers, police officers or health care practitioners failed to report an incident, if they are acting in a professional capacity and have reason to think a child is abused.

Currently, state licensing boards can discipline doctors, nurses and social workers for failing to report evidence of child abuse. But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, who argued in favor of the measure, said there haven’t been many cases of disciplinary actions for failing to report abuse.

“The fact is that whatever sanctions we have in current law aren’t sufficient to protect some of these kids from being injured and abused,” Mr. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, said.

But Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Somerset Republican, said the bill would put an unreasonable burden on teachers, who already have tough jobs.

“I think the bill goes too far by making criminals out of well-meaning teachers who might, for whatever reason, see something differently than social services or someone else in a trial later on,” Mr. Stoltzfus said.

Sen. Michael G. Lenett, Montgomery Democrat, said 38 states and the District have laws on the books making failure to report abuse a crime. He said the measure includes immunity from criminal liability, if someone reports abuse that turns out to be unfounded.

“So we’re encouraging the discovery of child abuse, erring on the side of encouraging people to report,” Mr. Lenett said.

The Senate adopted a favorable report on the proposal with a 42-4 vote.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, tried to amend the bill to take out the criminal component. He said the measure would affect “tens of thousands of health care professionals, teachers, nurses and so forth who every single day have to make their best judgment about whether or not some bruise on an arm is abuse.”

“This is a huge step,” Mr. Zirkin said.

But senators rejected the amendment on a 36-11 vote.

The bill also adds coroners, medical examiners, parole and probation agents and computer technicians to the list of professionals who are obligated to report suspected child abuse.

•••

A measure prompted by an accident on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that killed three persons last year received preliminary approval yesterday in the Senate.

The bill defines devices that are used to tow vehicles, and it sets a maximum penalty of $1,000 if a violation of the new regulations causes death or serious injury.

The measure would make it illegal for someone to tow with a rope, chain or cable — unless a driver is inside and able to steer the towed vehicle. The bill also requires the device that prevents separation to be locked in place.

Police determined that the May 10 crash on the Bay Bridge, which involved seven vehicles, was the direct result of a small utility trailer becoming separated from a sport utility vehicle.

•••

A House committee rejected a bill that would have repealed a ban on cameras in court during criminal sentencings.

The House Judiciary Committee’s vote against the proposal came although the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Caroline Republican, had hoped he had enough support to move the measure to the House floor. But the votes came up short.

Supporters argued that the bill would enhance the public’s access to courts, but opponents contended it would distort judicial proceedings

•••

A bill making it illegal to use the name of a dead member of the armed forces without relatives’ permission received unanimous preliminary approval.

The measure would make Maryland at least the sixth state to bar such use without permission.

The House approved the measure without debate yesterday after it was amended to exempt news organizations that publish or broadcast reports about military deaths. The bill also exempts artistic expression including protest signs, as long as the art pieces aren’t sold for a profit.

The bill awaits final approval in the House. A similar version is pending in the Senate.

•••

Widespread deaths of honeybees vital to agriculture prompted Maryland lawmakers to move toward approving a program to promote native plants.

The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would allow the Department of Agriculture to give grants to people planting native plants that help attract bees that pollinate crops.

Scientists think a virus previously unknown in the U.S. may be causing the die-offs.


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