Capital Notebook


O'Malley amenable to crime-stats audit

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told a legislative committee yesterday that he welcomes an statewide audit of crime statistics, and predicted that a review would put to rest questions about the accuracy of figures on shootings and other violent crimes recorded by the Baltimore Police Department.

O'Malley told the House Judiciary Proceedings Committee that the department has conducted 11 audits since 2000, and that the Maryland State Police have signed off on monthly figures from the city for 72 consecutive months.

"Most importantly, the gunshot data from Baltimore's trauma hospitals and ambulance runs tracks exactly with our Police Department's shooting records," said O'Malley, according to written testimony released by his office.

Del. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, has sponsored a bill calling for an audit, partly in response to television news reports that some crimes are not being catalogued in Baltimore. With O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, publicizing what he says is a nation-leading drop in crime while on the campaign trail, the accuracy of statistics has emerged as a major political issue.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, also a Democratic candidate for governor, issued a statement yesterday that called the mayor's support for an audit "a welcome development," but said, "Questions still remain and need to be addressed immediately concerning the accuracy of Baltimore City's crime statistics."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he thought time was running out the session to pass such a bill.

Staff and wire reports

Cambridge bill on shaky ground

Though legislation that would restrict a billion-dollar resort planned for the economically depressed Cambridge area got preliminary approval yesterday in the Senate, the bill's future is sketchy.

Without debate, senators approved a plan to prohibit development around the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Developers want to build 3,200 homes, a conference center, a retail complex, and golf and tennis courts on 1,080 acres near the refuge. Environmentalists question building so close to sensitive land.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Dorchester County Republican, adamantly opposes any restrictions on his hometown development. He said after the vote that the lack of debate could signal the bill's death knell when it comes up for a final vote.

"Sometimes silence is golden," Colburn said.

Colburn and Dorchester County elected officials consider the resort to be a much-needed economic boost for their area.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat and the bill's sponsor, said he's not sure whether he has the votes for final passage, with many of his colleagues reluctant to step into what they consider a local issue.

"I don't think it is [a local issue]," he said. "I think it is a Chesapeake Bay issue."

The bill could come up for final vote as soon as today .

Jill Rosen

Sex offender bill near passage

Legislation containing a broad range of stricter penalties for sex offenses, including a prison sentence of at least 25 years for sexual offenses committed against children, is nearing passage in the House of Delegates.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch planned a final vote for today so the bill could be sent to the Senate in hopes it will pass during the final two weeks of the General Assembly session. The bill combines elements of proposals made by House Democratic leaders and a package of bills introduced by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The bill would strengthen state laws dealing with registration and supervision of sexual offenders after they complete their prison sentences, including increasing from 10 years to 20 years the minimum time that people convicted of sexual crimes must remain on the state sex offenders registry.

Criminals on the registry would have to report in person every three months to update their registration information, and new photographs would be taken once a year.

To encourage offenders to keep their registrations current, the bill would increase the penalty for not registering from three years and a $5,000 fine to five years and a $10,000 fine. It also would make failure to register a felony instead of a less serious misdemeanor. Taking a cue from one of Ehrlich's bills, the House measure would make it a crime for anyone listed on the sex offender registry to enter the grounds of a school or day care center without permission. Violations of that section of the bill would carry a fine up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

That provision of the governor's package of bills was prompted by an incident last September when a sex offender was found on the parking lot of an Anne Arundel County elementary school. The man was arrested but could not be charged because his presence on school grounds was not illegal. Although the bill does not contain the governor's name, Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman, said he "would support any bill that helps further the fight against sexual predators."

Associated Press

Panel OKs stem cell proposal

The House Health and Government Committee approved the Senate's stem cell research proposal yesterday, moving the matter one step closer to the governor's desk.

The final vote was 15 to 7.

The Senate bill attracted more votes in the House committee than the original House proposal, which placed a priority on funding for embryonic stem cell research proposals. It also required $25 million annually for research.

The Senate bill allows the governor to dedicate money for research but doesn't require it. The House Appropriations Committee next votes on the bill. The House is expected to debate it Tuesday.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he supports state funding for stem cell research but prefers his $20 million budget proposal over a legislative plan.

Jennifer Skalka

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