Needed changes will toughen Megan's LawIn 1995...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Needed changes will toughen Megan's Law

In 1995 the Maryland General Assembly joined 40 other states and enacted "Megan's Law" to make convicted sex offenders who prey on children register their whereabouts with the local police in the county in which they reside.

Offenders must register each year for 10 years.

Megan's Law was named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey child who was raped and strangled by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her.

The aim of the law, which became effective Oct. 1, 1995, is to help police keep tabs on convicted child abusers and to let Marylanders know if a molester has moved into the neighborhood.

School superintendents and school principals in the sex offender's county of residence will be notified by police.

Anyone can get information on registered sex offenders by filing a written request with the local police agency.

Maryland and other states that passed versions of Megan's Law were complying with a federal mandate ordering states to enact sex offender registration laws by 1998 or risk losing 10 percent of their federal grants for fighting crime.

In May 1996, President Clinton signed into law a federal Megan's Law that calls for the dissemination of sex offender information collected under state registration programs.

The federal statute, which supersedes state law, differs from Maryland's Megan's Law in two respects.

It requires registration of all convicted sex offenders, not just those who victimize children under age 15.

And it states that registration be required at the state level of law enforcement, not the local police.

U.S. Department of Justice figures show that a forcible rape is committed every six minutes. A California study of the effectiveness of registration programs found that most law enforcement agencies believed registration helped them arrest suspected sex offenders. . . . Another California study on recidivism evaluated sex offenders over a 15-year period and found that nearly 50 percent were rearrested, 20 percent for a subsequent sex offense.

We will submit legislation to the 1997 General Assembly that will change Maryland's law to conform to the federal law.

I am hopeful that the General Assembly will approve the changes.

nn Marie Doory

Annapolis

The writer represents Baltimore's 43rd District in the House of Delegates.

Wildlife becoming inconvenient

The Aug. 5 editorial, "Suburban pests," presented the overpopulating deer and geese situation in a broad, seemingly balanced way. Our love of nature set against the increasing dangers caused by overabundance of fauna (and human beings) in shared areas does present a daunting challenge.

In the search for solutions, let us not forget that these creatures are born into the environment yet are helpless to change it.

The editorial headline labeled this wildlife as pests. Changing a deer's image from "Bambi" to "pest" might make inhumane solutions easier for us.

We should remember that the animals and birds haven't changed, but the environment has. And we did that.

May our solutions to the animal overpopulation problems be sensitive to all living things; not just to the species in control.

Frederick C. Rohlfing

Forest Hill

'Healers' receive no federal money

Your Aug. 9 article by the Associated Press titled "Christian Scientist healers suffer legal blow" should be commended for attempting to present a balanced account.

Unfortunately, however, the headline reflects a serious misstatement of fact in the article's second paragraph.

Contrary to the article, Christian Science practitioners, who heal using the religion's method of prayer, have never and do not now receive money through Medicare or Medicaid programs.

Sometimes patients choosing spiritual treatment from Christian Science practitioners also require practical nonmedical care, such as bandaging, bathing, etc.

Those who give this care are Christian Science nurses. It is they, and the sanitariums who employ them, that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments, not the practitioners.

Here are some additional aspects of the case not brought out in the article that many of your readers should find interesting: The federal judge who ruled against the payments did so because Medicare and Medicaid laws specifically mention the Christian Science denomination. He did, however, recognize the "laudable purpose" of the legal accommodation for religious freedom and is allowing the payments for Christian Science nursing to continue pending appeal.

If the District Court decision is not reversed on appeal it will mean that Christian Scientists will no longer be able to draw benefits under present law from a program many have paid into for years through Medicare and Medicaid payroll taxes.

The only significant difference between Christian Science sanitariums and the hospitals and nursing homes that other churches operate is that the Christian Science facilities follow the religion's teachings and stop at basic-care nursing, not employing medical treatment.

The issue is about the mention of a specific religious denomination in laws to accommodate religious freedom, which is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Was that mention in Medicare and Medicaid laws in violation of the prohibition, also in the First Amendment, against government establishing a religion?

Those who drafted the legislation more than 30 years ago felt that it wasn't. Last week the District Court judge felt that it was. The Christian Science church is appealing the District Court decision.

Dale Burman

Baltimore

The writer is a member of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Maryland.

Dulaney needs more than expansion

I read the article about the county's proposal to accelerate the work on additions to four high schools and to build a third in Owings Mills. I teach at Dulaney High School, which was designed to accommodate about 1,250 students. Last year, with a population of 1,650 students, we were using 10 trailers to accommodate the overflow. Before the county pushes the fast-forward button on expansion of high schools, I hope that it will take time to think about what is the best setting for educating human beings.

Dulaney should not simply be expanded to accommodate 2,000 human beings. Adding classroom space is not the issue. The infrastructure of the school -- the halls, the guidance and administrative offices, the library, the nurse's office, the cafeteria, etc. -- was designed to accommodate 1,250 students. Any expansion would need to include redesigning these spaces as well.

As the number of students in a high school increases, it becomes more difficult to create a setting that promotes their academic and personal growth. Adolescents are engaged in a daunting struggle to determine who they are and how they will function in society. Putting them in an overcrowded, pressure-cooker atmosphere does not facilitate the difficult transition to adulthood.

Last May after the seniors left, the number of underclassmen matched the number of students Dulaney was designed to serve. What a relief. People could move through the halls and the cafeteria with ease, in the manner in which the building was designed to function. The entire place felt lighter, more humane.

Before plans to expand the county's high schools are made final, hope that the county will take a good, hard look at redistricting and building an additional high school in the central area of the county. I also hope that the county will actively recruit parents, teachers and students to engage in a thoughtful approach toward resolving the problems of overcrowding in the schools.

Kathleen Jones

Baltimore

Prefer to see brides in bridal gowns

When I opened the Today section of The Sunday Sun, Aug. 4, I let out a shriek. What in the world have you done to the engagement and wedding pages?

It is dreadful. Whatever possessed you to change these pages? A change for the worse, it seems. There was nothing wrong with the previous format.

Now, the engagements are printed so small, it is like reading the obits.

Please lose the pictures of couples. Yuk! I enjoy seeing the brides in their wedding attire, not in everyday clothes.

I'm sure that I am not the only reader with this complaint. Please bring back the wedding pages of yore.

Frances W. Jordan

Baltimore

A rock from Mars; you're pulling my leg

Your cartoonist KAL may be a little ingenuous when it comes to politics, but he knows a scam, a hype and a con when he sees one.

His Sun cartoon of Aug. 8 on "life" on Mars hit the mark dead center.

This single discovery is based upon a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite that is assumed to have come from Mars and landed in Antarctica 13,000 years ago. What evidence is there that the meteorite came from Mars and not from the moon, or Peoria? If the rock had been collected by the Martian lander there would be some basis for this back patting. However, with the existing evidence this smells more like a ploy to wring out more tax dollars for NASA.

Louis Wm. Steinwedel

Baltimore

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I'm not convinced that this meteor carrying "life forms" is from Mars. Did any reporters ask how this rock, blasted into space when an asteroid hit the Martian surface, achieved the perfect escape velocity, entered into the perfect trajectory, traveled hundreds of millions of miles and landed in the polar regions of earth? I'd say it's a fair question.

For instance, NASA recently sent a spaceship to Mars. Even with the combined intelligence of the brains at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a sophisticated on-board guidance system and the best interplanetary trajectory theoretician diligently watching over the spaceship, it did not reach its destination. Why should this rock, propelled by a chaotic event succeed when an advanced spacecraft fail?

How can scientists say this rock is Martian? Why stop there? Why not Venus, Mercury or some other intergalactic host?

I think it is more likely this rock was of earth origin and was blasted into a lopsided earth orbit either by volcanic activity or a collision from a meteor or asteroid. It returned to its home planet when the energy to keep it in orbit was exhausted.

Mike Brown

Harve de Grace

Give fair campaign tax checkoff a chance

The public has been presented with spurious logic in the story, "Bay is loser in battle of tax-form checkoffs" (Aug. 2).

The opinion of Marvin Bond of the state comptroller's office that the public does not support financing elections is premature.

To give the new tax checkoff a fair chance, we must first develop an educational program that informs Marylanders what a contribution to the Fair Campaign Financing Fund means. Only then can we evaluate public sentiment toward financing campaigns.

The environmental community knows how damaging large special interest contributions are to our air, water and land. More than $500,000 from builders, developers and real estate agents given to state and local candidates will weigh in heavily against environmental concerns such as continued sprawl.

The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, long supportive of the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, understands this. That's why it joined 10 other organizations in endorsing the Fair Campaign Financing Fund.

The "Sophie's Choice" proposition of clean or green is a false dichotomy, one the public cannot afford to accept as true.

The Fair Campaign Financing Fund's recent return to the state tax form has received very little attention. Despite the obscurity of the fund, almost 10,000 Marylanders made a contribution in hopes of removing the State House from the auction block.

These contributions should be welcomed, not diminished.

The 1994 governor's race was the most expensive in Maryland history with the winning candidate spending more than $5.2 million. The next race will undoubtedly cost more -- whether or not Gov. Parris Glendening achieves his rumored $11 million campaign target.

A candidate must raise $7,534 a day every day for four years to raise $11 million. These enormous sums depend on large contributions from multiple family members and business ventures of wealthy interests, not dissimilar to the De Francis contributions that recently made the news.

The Fair Campaign Financing Fund (FCFF) eliminates the need for candidates to chase large, potentially corrupting and undemocratic campaign contributions. Under the FCFF program, gubernatorial candidates who accept a spending limit receive an incentive for raising small individual contributions.

The system is most effective when all candidates participate because it creates a level playing field that puts voters, not donors, in charge. The approach is not novel. Governors in New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota and Florida participate in similar programs. Maryland governors, too, can wean themselves from unlimited fund-raising.

Mr. Bond exaggerates concerns that taxpayers will rebel if the tax forms are "loaded up" with multiple checkoffs. Taxpayers giving almost $1 million above taxes is hardly the sign of a pending revolution.

The real revolt is seen in citizens balking at the voting booth. When less than half of the electorate participates in elections, our system of representative government is endangered.

Contributions to the bay checkoff have brought in impressive revenues due in large part to effective public relations campaigns. With similar educational programs, contributions to the Fair Campaign Financing Fund can also be expected to increase in both amount and participation.

It is at least worth the effort of informing the public about campaign funding alternatives before abandoning our electoral system to the highest bidder.

A symbol for clean government won't be as easy to come by as the blue heron. We know more what clean government doesn't look like than what it does look like. Surely the oldest democracy on earth can support both a clean environment and clean elections.

Deborah Povich

Annapolis

The writer is executive director of Common Cause of Maryland.

Protecting Maryland's shoreline is no easy feat

Ellen Gamerman's front page article July 22 was a bitter reminder to citizens of Queen Anne's County of the failings of the state planning act and the critical areas legislation.

The state boards and staffs responsible for implementing these growth and natural resource protection mandates lack the resources and political will to be effective.

While these agencies watch, Queen Anne's County has adopted a zoning ordinance that encourages residential sprawl in the resource conservation area of the critical area.

Transfer of development rights (TDR) programs have been instituted throughout the country to achieve resource protection goals by directing growth to areas with adequate public facilities.

In Queen Anne's County this conservation technique has been used to transfer development rights from properties that are under no threat of development to land designated as a resource to be protected.

Late last year board members of Queen Anne's Conservation Association, the county's non-profit conservation advocacy group, were shocked in their investigation of the TDR program to discover that the county had authorized the transfer of development rights from tidal marshes near the Kent Narrows and from a small tributary of the upper Chester River, Island Creek.

Clearly, Queen Anne's County's TDR program undermines the state planning act, the critical area legislation and the county's comprehensive plan by encouraging more intense development of the bay shoreline.

Eleanor Vernon

Centreville

The writer is executive secretary of the Queen Anne's County Conservation Association.

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I would like to correct a misquotation attributed to me by Ellen Gamerman.

In February, Ms. Gamerman called me to discuss a story on Southern Maryland she was planning to write.

As she explained it, the story angle was that shoreline development in Southern Maryland is out of control, and why isn't anything being done about it?

I responded that I wasn't interested in a story where the conclusion had already been written before the facts were gathered.

I referred her to state and local agencies that would have information as well as regulatory responsibility for shoreline development -- the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission and the planning departments of the county governments.

Unfortunately, Ms. Gamerman interpreted the comments I made in declining to be interviewed for her story as my views on the subject of shoreline development, which they are not.

The quotation attributed to me is therefore presented out of context and misrepresents what I said.

I simply didn't buy the premise of her story without the facts to support her sweeping conclusions.

Beyond a smattering of anecdotal information, Ms. Gamerman has not presented the hard data required to support her thesis that Southern Maryland's 700 miles of river and bay shoreline is facing imminent development.

My comments were directed at what I perceived to be a lack of objectivity in rushing to premature conclusions on a very complex subject before assembling the facts.

My comments were not aimed at the subject of shoreline development itself, which in this region and much of the state is a very important subject, relating directly to the protection of the environment, the management of growth, the exercise of state and local land use powers and the protection of individual property rights.

These are issues that I have considered often over the past 16 years as director of Southern Maryland's regional planning and development agency and a member of the Patuxent River Commission.

The Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland has a solid record of action and commitment to the environment and to restoring and protecting our rivers and bay.

Gary V. Hodge

Charlotte Hall

The writer is executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland.

Pub Date: 8/17/96

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