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House panel dilutes bill on car insurance rates


A House panel approved yesterday Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to reduce Baltimore's high auto insurance rates, but only after significantly weakening the legislation.

On a 13-5 vote, the House Economic Matters Committee endorsed the insurance reform proposal minus a provision that would have required major insurers to write more policies in the ++ city under a formula that was based on each company's statewide market share.

Instead, the committee chose a less precise standard. The bill now requires companies to submit annual reports demonstrating that they are marketing their insurance policies in the city comparably to how they market them in the rest of the state.

If the state insurance commissioner found that a company failed to meet that standard, the company would be denied a competitive advantage -- the ability to set rates without approval from the commissioner.

Committee Chairman Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said the legislation eventually should help city dwellers without burdening drivers elsewhere with higher rates.

The bill also beefs up the state's criminal fraud investigation effort, encourages good drivers in the state's high-risk motorist fund to seek lower rates in the private market and authorizes a commission to study the high city rates.

"I think this is a step in the right direction considering we haven't gotten beyond 3 feet to first base in the past," said Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.

The legislation will go to the full House of Delegates for consideration this week. Similar legislation is pending before the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate approves bill to bar residency rules

The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to prohibit Baltimore and the counties from having residency requirements for their employees.

Senate Bill 44 would allow local governments to give preference to residents but would eliminate residency requirements that police and fire unions say are harsh and unfair.

The bill now goes to the House, where a similar measure was given preliminary approval Friday over the objections of several Baltimore delegates who wanted to exempt the city.

Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat, said the city is losing its tax base along with its population. He said the residency requirement for municipal employees is one way to keep tax dollars in the city.

Del. Gerald J. Curran, also a Baltimore Democrat, opposed the amendment. "The city has to do a whole lot more to address the exodus from the city than this," he said.

House OKs requiring youth bike helmets

The House of Delegates approved a bill Friday that would require children under 16 to wear helmets when they ride bicycles anywhere in Maryland except the Boardwalk in Ocean City.

The proposed legislation, approved 97-29, would carry no fines or penalties. Instead, police officers would give young offenders warnings and educational pamphlets describing the benefits of helmets.

Lawmakers exempted the Boardwalk from House Bill 974 at the request of rental shops worried about liability.

4( The measure now moves to the Senate.

Panel OKs amendment on judicial discipline

Judges, lawyers and lay individuals would have an equal say in the discipline of state judges under a proposed constitutional amendment approved Friday by a Senate panel.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee passed a bill that would restructure the state's Commission on Judicial Disabilities.

The commission would be expanded from seven members to nine. Instead of four judges, two lawyers and one member of the public, the commission would consist of three judges, three lawyers and three public members.

To become law, the bill must win approval from three-fifths of the House and Senate and be signed by the governor, then ratified by a majority of voters in November 1996.

Molester notification approved by panel

A bill that would require com- munities to be told when a convicted child molester is released from prison into their neighborhood was approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Friday.

A majority of states have adopted versions of "Megan's Law," which is named after a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who allegedly was raped and strangled by a neighbor who was a convicted child sex offender.

Senate Bill 418 would not only require that police departments be notified of a release, but if the offender was on parole or probation, residents within a three-block radius would be mailed postcards informing them of their new neighbor.

In rural areas, the notification would extend to a one-mile radius -- around the offender's home.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for approval. A similar bill is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Bill would give troopers powers in Baltimore

A bill that would allow state police troopers to enforce traffic laws in Baltimore passed the House Friday despite opposition from city delegates, the mayor and police commissioner.

Baltimore is the only Maryland jurisdiction where state police do not have enforcement authority.

Several city lawmakers urged their colleagues to defeat the measure, House Bill 65, as a courtesy to the mayor and the city's delegation, which opposed it 15-14.

The arguments of Baltimore Del. Timothy D. Murphy carried the day. The Democrat and former city councilman said he #i introduced the bill to allow the 100 or more troopers who live within the city to back up Baltimore's understaffed police force.

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