- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Black lawmakers said Wednesday that Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s new regulations expanding the collection of DNA evidence violated a deal narrowly crafted earlier this year to win passage of one of the Democrat governor’s hallmark proposals.

“This is exactly what we feared,” said state Sen. Verna L. Jones, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, about the new regulations that allow state police to expand their collection of DNA samples.

“This is typical when you have an administration that doesn’t want to see the implementation of legislation that has been negotiated,” she said. “We have to hold the governor accountable for this. That’s where the buck stops.”

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland NAACP and the Office of the Public Defender decried the new regulations Wednesday in an hour-long conference call with reporters.

The groups said the new regulations allow police to collect DNA samples shortly after arrest, do not guarantee expungement of the DNA records and allow police to track relatives through the samples that are collected - all of which are barred in the law passed earlier this year.

But the administration of Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said the new regulations do none of that, and that the American Civil Liberties Union is attempting to block the law even though it failed to do so during the legislative session.

“The story is the ACLU did not like the legislation, they’re not going to like the law and they’re going to oppose the law at every turn,” said Kristen Mahoney, director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

Republicans who co-sponsored the legislation said the criticism appeared rooted in technicalities.

“The ACLU has been, I think, unduly alarmist,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee, which vetted the legislation expanding DNA collection.

But those opposed to the regulations said their criticisms were not arrived at lightly. Lawyers for the ACLU, Black Caucus and Office of the Public Defender, studied the regulations after they were released, said Cindy Boersma, legislative director for the ACLU .

“There have been a lot of eyes looking over these regulations and reaching similar conclusions,” she said.

Mrs. Boersma noted that the definition of “charge” is written broadly in the regulations, including allowing citizens to file a criminal complaint, and that DNA can be collected during booking, something negotiators specifically said they did not want in the legislation

The regulations also only govern expunging DNA records from the federal database but do not dictate how the DNA material is physically destroyed or whether it can be used by local law enforcement, Mrs. Boersma said.

Mr. O’Malley made expanding DNA collection a centerpiece of his 2008 legislative agenda, but had trouble winning support from black lawmakers concerned that the new law would target minority youths. The Democratic governor agreed to sizable compromises with the Black Caucus before it agreed to support his plan.

The proposal was one of the few times Mr. O’Malley has actively courted Republican lawmakers, a distinct minority in both the House and Senate - although he also angered many in his base of supporters, including black lawmakers.

“I really am challenging the O’Malley administration to come forth and put the cards on the table,” Mrs. Jones said. “If they were not going to be fair and above board with us they should not have entered into negotiations with us.”

The regulations were issued Aug. 1 with little fanfare, and take effect Jan. 1. State Sen. Delores G. Kelley said she has asked the legislative committee charged with oversight of regulations to review the new guidelines.

“The committee will get to air the dirty laundry in public,” said Mrs. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat. “The administration is going to have to step up to the plate, or we have to go to court.”

Mr. O’Malley built an image as a tough-on-crime politician during his time as mayor of Baltimore and has carried that with him to Annapolis. But along the way he has sparked complaints from black lawmakers and civil liberties groups disturbed by what they have called heavy-handed and intrusive tactics.

The ACLU and Baltimore NAACP filed a lawsuit against Mr. O’Malley in 2006 charging Baltimore Police with making “illegal arrests.”

Black lawmakers have been a key voting bloc for Mr. O’Malley, helping carry him to victory over former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2006. Top black officials, including Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and state Sen. Ulysses Currie, have also been broadly supportive of Mr. O’Malley’s attempts to paper over the state’s budget problems, rallying support for controversial proposals such as the governor’s plan to legalize slot machines.

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