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Some legislators balk at security proposal


General Assembly leaders have raised concerns about a proposal to put metal detectors in the State House but stopped short yesterday of halting plans to install the devices.

Several ranking legislators - both Republican and Democrat - have come out against the proposal to force visitors to the State House and adjoining legislative buildings to go through metal detectors.

In a letter released yesterday, Assembly leaders instructed the state Department of General Services to proceed with plans to improve security but asked the department to take into account the concerns of legislators.

"We understand the need to take appropriate measures to protect all of those who come to Annapolis, but we should not stifle public participation in the governmental process," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., both Democrats, said in their joint letter to the secretary of general services, Peta N. Richkus. "The signal this sends to the public is one of fear, not welcome."

Taylor said yesterday he expects department officials to consult with legislators as they reassess their security plan.

"Obviously we're going to continue negotiating, discussing, building, if you will, the whole system," Taylor said.

Richkus was out of the office yesterday and had not seen the letter, a spokesman for the department said.

Earlier this year, the legislature instructed the department to prepare a plan to improve security in the State House complex in Annapolis. The department's proposal called for metal detectors and tighter access to many of the buildings.

The plan called for closing the main ceremonial doors to the State House to force visitors to enter the historic building through a metal detector at the service entrance on the ground floor.

Some lawmakers reluctantly accepted the proposal as a necessary part of living in a violent society. But others said the increased security was unnecessary.

"Passions are indeed heightened on some of the issues we face in Annapolis, but not to a degree that warrants such a massive security apparatus," wrote two ranking Baltimore Democratic delegates, Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Samuel I. Rosenberg, head of an appropriations subcommittee.

Those sentiments were echoed this week by leaders of the House Republicans. "Metal detectors in the State House will be perceived as a way to protect legislators from the people," wrote Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House Republican leader, and Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House GOP whip. "If legislators and staff have badges to get past the metal detectors, it will create an 'us versus them' perception and a feeling of a privileged class."

Legislative leaders appear to be in little hurry to resolve the touchy topic of metal detectors. "I don't think there is a crisis-type urgency here to have some kind of completed system in place by a certain date," Taylor said.

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