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THE BALTIMORE SUN

Drunken driving editorial misses difference between DUI, DWI

our editorial "On drunken driving, .08 makes sense -- still" (Feb. 3) was quite odd to many who have followed this issue closely in Maryland.

You again chastise state legislators who opposed a bill on the subject in the last session of the General Assembly, but at the same time, in the opening premise of your complaint you assert, "Medical evidence shows the ability is seriously impaired when blood-alcohol constant reaches .08." That is the very same point made by the opponents of the proposal introduced last year.

Maryland law already provides that a driver with a 0.08 BAC is violating the law, specifically driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), commonly referred to as driving while impaired. Indeed, the drunk driving offense of DUI in Maryland occurs under present law not only at a BAC of 0.08, but also a BAC of merely 0.07. This is to date the toughest standard used anywhere in the nation.

Perpetrators are currently subject to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. More serious violators, who are responsible for the vast majority of collisions, injuries and fatalities, are subject to a stiffer penalty, namely a year in jail, though that sentence is rarely imposed. This is the punishment under our current law for driving while intoxicated (DWI), an offense more serious than DUI.

Some representatives simply believe that the noble objective of safer highways, shared by persons of all points of view, is better achieved by focusing our law enforcement and prosecution resources on the truly drunk drivers, rather than just casting a bigger net to apprehend and incarcerate people who are not creating any significant driving danger.

To elevate the conduct of the dinner patron who enjoys a couple of glasses of wine as equivalent to the drunk who cannot control the operation of their vehicle is to trivialize what ought to be reserved in the eyes of the law for persons who pose a much greater hazard.

This is why some of the legislators who voted "no" on the unreasonable proposal filed last year may vote "yes" on an alternative approach to put Maryland into compliance with the new federal requirement of making a BAC of 0.08 a DWI instead of a DUI, but also, and much more importantly, establishing graduated sanctions for truly drunk drivers.

Dana Dembrow, Annapolis

The writer represents Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Pro and con on impeachment trial

Michael Olesker's Feb. 4 column argues that the impeachment trial is unpopular with the American people because "we know an act of bullying when we see it."

The opposite is true. It is Mr. Clinton who has used state troopers to obtain potential sex partners, who gropes women in the Oval Office and who uses what feminists call "a power disparity" to sexually exploit subordinates.

And when some women object to being so used, Mr. Clinton's awesome public relations machine paints these women as "trailer-park trash," stalkers, or mere liars. If this isn't "somebody with power picking on a pathetic young woman with none" -- indeed, picking on many pathetic but powerless women -- I don't know what is.

Yet Mr. Clinton's peculiar genius is that he has succeeded in making himself a victim, and those who suggest his conduct is reprehensible are seen as bullies. Mr. Olesker just doesn't get it -- but, then, neither do two-thirds of the American people.

Steve Walters, Lutherville

Where in the Constitution does it state that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is to direct the activities of the Senate? Why does the Senate leader allow himself to be subordinate to the chairman? What hold does the chairman have on the Senate leader, or is it just partisanship?

How different from the leadership of Bob Dole, the statesman.

M. D. Clifford, Baltimore

The Democrats are pathetic in their attempt to spin Republicans as the hatemongers. As Henry Hyde stated, this is not about what we hate, but about what we love.

L. Craig Phillips, Stevensville

I have been reading the standard Republican explanation and rationalization for impeachment of the president. However, I cannot accept it. Moreover, I am now convinced that the danger to the Republic is the Republican Party.

The GOP has taken advantage of its majority status to instigate the process to bring an impeachment on charges that, although grave, are not sufficient to remove an elected president. This would be a dangerous precedent, as it would allow any congressional majority to remove a president based solely on numbers. It would short-circuit our electoral process and begin a parliamentary process in which the majority controls the executive. That is not how our government was designed.

K. Gary Ambridge, Baltimore

Could it be that Barbara Mikulski actually voted her conscience when she cast her original vote on Jan. 27 to continue the trial?

If you change the name "Packwood" to "Clinton" in her 1995 statements demanding witnesses, etc., while she served on the ethics committee hearing then-Sen. Robert Packwood's case, one gets the feeling that her conscience is tainted by party loyalty. It seems Republicans do not have an exclusive claim on partisanship.

C. L. Norris, Baltimore

The ferocity of the Republicans' death wish is astounding. Why can't Senate Republicans see that every capitulation they make to the House managers embroils them further in a battle that is lost and will debilitate their party for years?

The decision to allow witnesses is a case in point. Even if the testimony reveals nothing, the Republicans will not be able to admit that their case is no stronger than it was before, so they will have to claim that some element of the testimony is new.

Then, the House managers will demand that they be allowed to investigate further, which will put Senate Republicans once more between a rock and a hard place: If they deny the request, they will be accused of cutting off the trial by their conservative base; but if they grant the request, the trial will spin hopelessly out of control, further decimating the Republican Party's standing with the American people.

William Pastille, Baltimore

I am mystified by the Jan. 29 comments attributed to a University of Michigan law professor concerning the Senate Republicans' push for some ruling in the impeachment trial other than conviction ("GOP would settle for party-line vote on findings of fact," Jan. 29).

Prof. Yale Kamisar asserts that "the Senate is the highest court in the land when it comes to impeachment," and "can pretty much do what it wants." He is wrong on both counts.

Rather than the highest impeachment court, the Constitution establishes that the Senate is the only impeachment court. Nevertheless, that power is quite specifically limited. The Senate may convict on the House articles, by "the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present," but its "judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."

The two-thirds requirement and the sole remedy of removal were designed to prevent a majority from manipulating the process for political advantage. Suggesting that the "findings of fact" procedure has constitutional legitimacy is specious and disturbing.

Raymond Daniel Burke, Sparks

Photo commentary

As a conservative Republican, there is little that my two liberal Democrat senators propose or accomplish that gives me cause to smile. This is especially true of Sen. Paul Sarbanes, our silent senator, who never shows the presence of his junior colleague, Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Maybe that is why your Jan. 28 photo of various Democratic senators engaged in the impeachment trial struck me as humorous. While six or seven other senators were entirely visible, our Mr. Sarbanes was content to hide behind his comrades and peer cautiously over their shoulders.

Mr. Sarbanes and Ms. Mikulski's political leanings are anathema to me, yet I grudgingly respect her for speaking out on issues important to the state of Maryland. Mr. Sarbanes seems content on showing up on the Hill everyday and taking up valuable space.

Brian D. Hess, Bel Air

Alternatives offered for funding state's roads, mass transportation needs

The sales tax is the wrong way to finance Maryland's transportation spending. Motor vehicle user fees now fall far short of covering the full costs to our communities of driving and should be raised in ways that help solve the congestion problem.

Raising the sales tax for transit would disproportionately burden lower-income people and subsidize high-income transit commuters and drivers. Maryland's transit systems are largely underused, while our roads are overburdened by growing traffic. But simply building more roads and transit is not a sensible answer. By managing road space, transit, travel demand, and growth we can cut congestion faster and at less cost, producing a better-balanced, efficiently used and more environmentally sound transportation system.

A sales tax for transportation would address none of this. It would simply take money away from education, community revitalization and other worthy programs. The gas tax at least focuses on highway users, more closely connecting driving decisions with their true costs and giving highway users a small incentive not to drive excessively.

An even better mechanism is represented by a recent Maryland Department of Transportation proposal to consider Value Pricing strategies on major bridges, tunnels and highways.

This approach could vary tolls by time of day depending on the level of congestion, collect those tolls electronically and devote net revenues to expanding transportation choices, including new clean bus services and van services.

This has proven successful in California and elsewhere. Combined with the new federal Commuter Choice tax incentives and proposed Maryland Commuter Choice tax credits that cut the costs of transit commuting, these could cut Maryland traffic growth quickly while curbing our taxes.

We can't afford to build our way out of congestion and should not tax the poor to feed the travel habits of the more affluent. We should take a new approach to transportation with Commuter Choice and smart transportation.

Both through its transportation committee and in its regional transportation partnership with Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Baltimore Urban League and 1000 Friends of Maryland, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) is working to secure coherent, responsible transportation planning and investment for the Baltimore metropolitan region. Absent any anchoring in principles of Smart Growth, economic equity or community quality of life, our transportation dollars and policies will continue to generate more highway congestion and less transit use -- no matter where the money comes from.

Ralph E. Moore Jr., Chris Rye,r Baltimore

The letter writers co-chair the CPHA's transportation committee.

I would like to commend Casper Taylor, the speaker of the House of Delegates, for having the courage to propose an unpopular step to address Maryland's serious transportation needs ("Take gas tax off the table," Jan. 22).

Speaker Taylor proposes a one percent increase in the sales tax to raise $520 million per year for projects such as the Woodrow W. Wilson Bridge, the Intercounty Connector, a new interstate in western Maryland and transit upgrades.

Having commended his courage, I must disagree with his spending priorities and his proposed funding mechanism. Maryland doesn't need new interstates and a 12-lane Wilson Bridge is expensive overkill. We could greatly reduce the amount of money needed for new roads and bridges by ending urban sprawl development and canceling the many roads planned to serve the sprawl builtdout.

Mr. Taylor dismisses an increased gasoline tax because a nickel increase would only raise $140 million, far less than he believes necessary.

But Mr. Taylor doesn't consider that a 19-cent-per-gallon increase would raise the $520 million he desires, and could be achieved with a nickel a year increase for four years.

That would leave the cost of gasoline still well below its inflation-adjusted cost from 20 years ago. The argument that raising our gas tax that much would cause people to drive to neighboring Delaware and Virginia for gasoline has some validity, but also applies to the sales tax. Taylor's proposal would leave Maryland with a 6 percent sales tax versus no sales tax in Delaware.

There are powerful arguments for raising the gasoline tax: Gas is as cheap now as it has ever been, yet we are heavily dependent on imported oil, and burning gas pollutes our air and water. There are also good reasons for using the gas tax to support transit improvements and operations. The relative cost of driving versus transit helps determine how many people take transit. A funding mechanism for transit that increases the cost of driving encourages more transit use. The more people who take transit, the less crowded the roads are. Drivers benefit when others take transit, with less traffic and cleaner air.

The sales tax approach would provide one more subsidy to car use. This is the last thing we need. An increase in the gas tax would be preferable to an increase in the sales tax. But there is another approach that should be considered. We could institute a tax on vehicle miles for cars registered in Maryland. A tax of less than a penny and a half per mile would raise as much as Taylor's proposed sales tax increase.

Another related idea would be to require that auto insurance be sold by the mile rather than by the year. This reform would change a large fixed cost to a variable cost and hence provide an incentive to drive less. I would recommend instituting per mile insurance before increasing taxes, to see first how well this measure would reduce traffic.

Economists have long recognized that if you want more of something you can subsidize it, and if you want less of an activity, tax it.

Given that we have too much traffic, too much pollution and are emitting far too much global warming gases, it is time to reduce our dependence on sales, income and property taxes, and shift our taxes to vehicle mileage, fossil fuel use and parking. The time when roads and cars deserved public subsidy has long since passed.

Speaker Taylor has recommended that a blue-ribbon panel be formed to consider our transportation needs and how best to fund our infrastructure investments. These ideas should be among the things they consider.

Carl Henn, Rockville

The writer is chairman of Stop That Infernal Road!

Options for Patapsco Heritage Greenway

I am concerned about the recent article in your newspapers (Jan. 20, 21, 22, 1999) regarding on-going efforts to establish a plan for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway. The articles had some incorrect statements that misrepresent the goals of our committee to preserve the beauty of the area, as well as protect its abundant wildlife and ample historic and cultural resources. I wish to set the record straight on the following points:

The Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee is not a "private group." This not-for-profit organization has always been open to all who wish to attend and participate, as the 50 or so people attending the meeting on January 21 can confirm. Over the past four years, the committee has published a series of newsletters, sponsored a number of well-publicized cultural and environmental programs, and been the focus of at least 50 newspaper articles regarding its activities. It is, therefore, surprising to read that Mildred Kriemelmeyer of the Maryland Conservation Council had not heard about the committee prior to last fall and, therefore, did not believe the committee acted like a public group."

The Baltimore Sun articles referred to "preliminary plans" drawn up by our consultants. The ideas that have been presented to date have been just that -- conceptual alternatives that explored various planning ideas for the purpose of discussion. We have repeadedly emphasized this to both The Sun and to members of the Patapsco Valley community. It has never been our intention to carry out all of these options. Moreover, these options never included items such as multiple garages or permanent concession stands.

The plan for the greenway has not been "rapidly moving forward." Since the Oct. 5 public session, we have held a series of meetings with community groups throughout the valley to discuss the goals of the committee and the various ideas being considered. No additional work has been done on the plan itself. It is our intention to maintain this close contact with the communities throughout the remainder of the planning process.

A letter to Gov. Parris Glendening, referred to in the article, does not specifically refer to the Patapsco Heritage Greenway project. Rather, it expresses his concern regarding greenway activities throughout Maryland, including "Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties."

John Slater, Ellicott City

The writer is chairman of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee.

I am very concerned about the article in The Sun on Jan. 20, which described the opposition of a coalition of unnamed environmental groups to plans for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway. I have lived in Oella, one of the quiet communities along the river described in the article, for 8 1/2 years. We live in one of the old mill-worker houses; our house is about 120 years old. The main reasons we moved here were because we were charmed by the history of the community and the beauty of the Patapsco Valley, which our house overlooks.

I have been active in the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee for nearly four years. I love Oella and the valley and would certainly not participate in anything I believed would harm it.

I find some of the objections of the opponents to be, quite frankly, outrageous. The idea that parks are for flora and fauna to the exclusion of people is, I believe, a radical position that applies only in wilderness areas. Some of the individuals who are so vocally opposed to the plan seem to feel that the Patapsco Valley State Park is their private preserve and that the Patapsco River is their private fishing area.

I hope the committee will move forward with its important work, at the same time giving the public plenty of opportunity for input into developing a final plan for the heritage area.

Julia Graham, Oella

Pub Date: 2/06/99

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