Wednesday, May 14, 2008

O’Malley OKs delay of phosphate ban for detergents

DNA collection, death penalty study also signed into law

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley has agreed to postpone a ban on the use of phosphates in dishwashing detergents, despite calls for a veto of the legislation.

The bill was among several the governor signed into law on Tuesday.

The new law extends by six months the implementation of legislation passed last year requiring the removal of all detergents containing phosphorous and its derivatives from store shelves by 2010.

Environmental groups, along with Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, lobbied O’Malley (D) to veto the delay bill, passed this year, which pushes implementation to July 2010 in order to give the detergent industry more time to comply.

Del. Tom Hucker said the delay was ‘‘terrible” and unnecessary.

‘‘The deadline last year was very appropriate,” said Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring. ‘‘It was a hard fought compromise that protects the Bay.”

Detergent manufacturers are ‘‘changing their practices and changing their products ... a six-month accommodation is not unreasonable,” O’Malley said during an appearance on WTOP radio’s ‘‘Ask the Governor” program last week.

Ryan O’Donnell, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, criticized the new law. ‘‘This is concession, not compromise,” he said in a statement. ‘‘The real issue is, will Maryland be in the business of casually accepting requests from out of state industry giants that harm our interests at home? The missed opportunity here was not standing up to the special interests and making it clear that the environment always comes first.”

Other legislation signed Tuesday requires the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes, stiffer penalties for attending a dogfight or cockfight and releasing photos of escapees from facilities for juvenile offenders.

The DNA bill, which requires police to take samples from people charged with a violent crime or felony burglary, sparked controversy during this year’s General Assembly legislative session.

‘‘The DNA bill has been a very, very positive step forward,” O’Malley said.

Steps already taken to clear a backlog of 24,000 DNA samples in the state crime lab’s database ‘‘have led to the arrest of 61 rapists and murderers and there’s another 71 that are under active investigation,” he said.

O’Malley, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and state police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan testified before legislative committees in favor of the legislation, which originally covered a much broader range of crimes.

The Legislative Black Caucus voiced concerns that an expanded state database of DNA samples could be used for racial profiling. The bill passed after caucus members convinced colleagues that samples should not be taken until formal charges are brought and should be expunged upon acquittal. The caucus also successfully argued for an amendment to allow people to use DNA evidence to seek a new trial after a conviction.

‘‘Some of the brightest minds in the state of Maryland came together to come up with a piece of consensus legislation that will fairly and equitably be applied,” said Del. Melony G. Griffith, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Lawmakers will monitor how the law is applied for any ‘‘unintended consequences,” said Griffith (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro. ‘‘We’ll all be watching very carefully to make sure we haven’t missed something in the final crafting of the product.”

O’Malley also signed a bill creating a commission to study the death penalty after efforts to repeal Maryland’s capital punishment statute failed for a second straight year.

The commission, which will report its findings to the General Assembly by Dec. 15, ‘‘demonstrates the state of Maryland’s deep concern that its death penalty system isn’t working,” Jane M. Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said in a statement. ‘‘By any measure, the death penalty has failed the people of Maryland, who have come to know that it risks executing the innocent, is unfairly applied, fails victims’ families and law enforcement and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Other public safety legislation increases the penalty for attending a dogfight or cockfight from up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Another new law requires registered sex offenders to provide information that can identify them online, including aliases, e-mail addresses and computer screen names. It also requires copies of the offender’s driver’s license or identification card, as well as license plate numbers and a description of any vehicles they own or operate.