Measure would restrict police seizure of cars


A measure to prevent the police from abusing broad powers to seize cars used in drug-related crimes received final legislative approval yesterday.

House Bill 74 cleared the state Senate on a 32-14 vote. The legislation -- which is opposed by prosecutors and police -- now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has not yet said if he will sign it.

The General Assembly adopted similar legislation last year after police seized a Toyota pick-up belonging to a man who purchased a placebo from undercover detectives and a court ruled it could not review the police action.

However, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed the bill, saying it had not been given an adequate hearing.

The state's current forfeiture law allows police to take a vehicle away from its owner if they believe it was used to store or transport illegal drugs.

The owner can sue for the vehicle's return, but may have to wait four to six months for the case to come to trial.

House Bill 74 would allow the owner to seek an immediate court review of police procedures. Opponents call the bill "the drug dealers asset protection act of 1995."

Bill would toughen some DWI penalties

Lawmakers have moved to double the penalties for motorists who drive while intoxicated with children in the car.

The Senate unanimously gave final approval yesterday to House Bill 370, which would set the penalty for a first offense at $2,000 or two years in jail.

The penalty for the lesser charge of driving "under the influence" with minors in the vehicle would double as well. A first offense would be punishable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

The measure now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening for signature.

Supporters of the legislation, including police and medical groups, argued that driving drunk with minors amounts to child endangerment and should be punished appropriately.

Bill would levy fee on mobile callers

Mobile telephone users would have to pay a monthly 911 emergency fee under a measure adopted by the legislature.

The House of Delegates gave final approval Wednesday to Senate Bill 332 on a 113-21 vote. The measure -- opposed by cellular telephone companies but supported by local governments -- now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The bill would allow Baltimore and the counties to collect a fee of up to 50 cents a month from cellular telephone customers to finance the 911-emergency dispatch system.

Local governments already collect a similar fee from other telephone users, and the state also charges a 10-cent 911 fee.

Paul Tiburzi, a lobbyist for Cellular One, said the fee is "a back-door tax on people who use cellular phones. This is supposed to be the year there aren't any taxes."

But David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said the bill merely closes a loophole which allowed the mobile phone users escape the fee.

The new fee is expected to raise $1.2 million statewide.

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