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Timing of change of Orphans' law is...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Timing of change of Orphans' law is troubling

According to recent newspaper reports, the Howard County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly recently voted to allow Howard County Orphans' Court judges to practice law during their tenure on the bench.

Supporters of this bill declared the change necessary, because newly elected Judge Sherae McNeal was unaware until her orientation and swearing-in that she would be precluded from practicing law under the Maryland Estates and Trusts Code.

Judge McNeal is extremely knowledgeable in the field of estates and trusts law, and brings this expertise to the court. In the era of increasing complexity, Judge McNeal's experience will be a welcome addition to the court. In fact, I look forward to practicing before Judge McNeal, and am confident that her addition to the court will be a benefit to the bar and general public at large.

That notwithstanding, I am troubled at the process by which our delegation retroactively changed the law. Generally, laws which have an impact on the electoral process are made prior to the election they might impact, to allow individuals who might seek election the benefit of those laws.

By making this change retroactively, the Howard County delegation has precluded the possibility that other attorneys might have joined Judge McNeal in her race for the Orphans' Court seat. As things stand, Judge McNeal was apparently unaware of the prohibition. Other attorneys who were aware of the prohibition may have abstained from the race for that reason.

My comments are in no way meant to impugn Judge McNeal or her legal competence, nor do I have any question about her professional ethics. The Howard County delegation has been faced with a difficult situation, and has chosen its course. While the change in county policy and state law will make for a more professional court, the timing of the changes and potential lack of fairness remain troubling.

Timothy S. Barkley Sr., Mount Airy

The writer is an attorney.

Students' campaign is not a 'weapon'

On behalf of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, I would like to voice our concern about a comment in a recent article of The Sun titled, "Howard students, legislators launch cigarette tax campaign."

The article stated: "Kicking off a grass-roots campaign for a $1 increase in the state cigarette tax, Howard County activists employed a new weapon yesterday in their battle against the tobacco industry: children."

We are very concerned that MASC's involvement in the campaign to raise the tobacco tax, as a means to decrease teen-age smoking, is seen as a "weapon" against the tobacco industry.

MASC in 1998 took a position to endorse an increase in the tobacco tax by $1.50 to help deter teen-agers from smoking and fund prevention programs and education.

MASC has also for many years supported local and state programs to eliminate student substance abuse, which includes tobacco. In August, MASC felt that this was so important to students that we decided to become a lead organization.

MASC has been in existence for more than 50 years and has lobbied in Annapolis on many occasions. Each year, we take positions on youth-related bills. For example, we supported and lobbied for the Science and Technology Scholarship Bill, as well as the Hope Scholarship Bill in 1996 and 1997. In 1996, we held a rally and testified for stronger handgun restrictions. We have also successfully lobbied for students to serve as members on boards of education, some even with voting rights.

We urge the General Assembly to approve Senate Bill 143 to deter youths and others from the deadly addiction of smoking. The only "weapon" that we will be using when we go to lobby will be our voices as informed students who care deeply about issues facing our generation.

Nathaniel Thomas, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Column on class size was only half right

Harold Jackson was half-right. He stated in his Feb. 14 column ("Smaller class sizes won't guarantee success") that class size does not necessarily lead to better learning. Howard County discusses this numbers game as if it had found a new key to learning. Of course, class size has been talked about since the one-room schoolhouse. Schools have individually dealt with question for decades.

The half he got wrong is blaming failures on the teachers. Most teachers I have had contact with seem to have a grasp of what they are supposed to be doing. Some could be improved, but many others shouldn't have to follow in lock-step the methods suggested by the bureaucrats. Actually, there are people who can teach without a degree in education.

Mr. Jackson writes, "Class size reduction won't be an advantage if these teachers remain shackled to old methods." Unfortunately, we don't find out what these "old methods" are, and obviously the bureaucrats keep their jobs developing "new methods." I believe a few old ones have withstood the test of time.

By implementing fuzzy teaching methods and having more money, how can administrators go wrong? We should find out by 2005.

Mr. Jackson did mention "parents" twice. There is still hope.

R. D. Bush, Columbia

Crimes against elderly abhorrent

The Maryland Senate has approved Senate Bill 111, which I sponsored, to give the court authority to increase by 50 percent of the maximum sentence the penalty of anyone convicted of committing a crime of violence against a person 65 years old or older. The bill goes to the House of Delegates.

With good reason, older people and their families worry about crime. Each year, about 2 million older people become victims of crime. While our overall crime rate has dropped in recent years, assaults on elderly people rose 15 percent from 1992 to 1995. Attorney General Janet Reno points out that every 1 percent increase in violent crime means 90,000 additional victims.

The elderly are prime targets for robbery, personal and car theft, burglary and mugging. Elderly people are rarely as physically or emotionally equipped to protect themselves as younger people. As a result, they are far more susceptible to violent crime.

When Senate Bill 111 was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Dr. Matthew Tayback testified in support. He was Maryland's first Director on Aging, from 1974 to 1983, and is currently coordinator for the Hopkins Center on Aging, Division of Geriatric Medicine.

The calculated brutality inherent in aggravated crimes against the elderly should carry additional or stronger penalties. Passage of this bill will go a long way in making the punishment fit the crime.

Sen. Martin G. Madden, Annapolis

The writer is Senate minority leader and represents the 13th Legislative District.

More to say on road closing

Thank you for the article bringing attention to the untimely and illegal closing of Sanner Road in Howard County -- no public hearing -- and to the residents' concerns about the environmental destruction occurring before their very eyes. More needs to be said, however.

Maryland has strict laws to protect streams, forests and steep slopes, but residents on Sanner Road bear witness to those laws not being enforced. Howard County bureaucrats forget that government is to serve citizens, not land developers.

Our road is closed for four months to convenience the developers and will be closed again for several months to convenience the county. Residents face an unsafe traffic situation and decreased access for police, ambulance and firefighters.

A scenic road is gone forever.

Nancy Davis, Clarksville

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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