We Will Never Get A Tough Criminal Manslaughter by Vehicle Law in MD With Delegate Vallario Chairing The Judiciary Committee ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We Will Never Get A Tough Criminal Manslaughter by Vehicle Law in MD With Delegate Vallario Chairing The Judiciary Committee

Safe-driving activist Adiva Sotzky, the widow of a man killed by a negligent truck driver, has provided us with her "recap" of efforts to pass legislation that would toughen up state law. We have reported on this before here as well as in my column in The Capital. Once again, powerful Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Vallario has denied this bill the opportunity to come to a vote. Vallario has a history of behaving in this manner, and if there ever were a reason for term limits, he may be it. However, we must also ask why House Speaker Mike Busch continues to allow such behavior among his own committee chairmen:

Now that the chaotic 'scramble' during the last days of the General Assembly are over, here is what was "accomplished" by our legislators who move at “glacial speed.” The bill for Manslaughter by Vehicle or Vessel- Criminal Negligence died in the Judiciary Committee. The Judicial Proceedings Committee morphed the bill into something far afield from the bill’s original intent. Their amendment turned the bill into Reckless Driving- Penalty for Causing Death and provided sanctions of $2500 and/or 2 years imprisonment. So, the loophole still exists. One can drive in a criminally negligent manner, cause fatalities, and face relatively minimal sanctions.

In spite of extensive supportive testimony at public hearings, massive support from the public (thousands of email/letters in support of the bill sent to their legislators), a letter of support from Governor O’Malley’s office, and a meeting with Busch’s staff, the bill died. Committee Chairman Vallario effectively slaughtered the bill, again, by not bringing it forward for a vote. On the Senate side, Frosh’s committee killed the bill in a more “creative way.”

A few bills passed that made some changes to the current system. Causing a fatality or serious bodily injury due to reckless and negligent driving now has a penalty of $1000 and a possible license suspension for up to 180 days. This is an improvement over the previous penalties of not more than $500 for negligent driving (even when there is a fatality). This brings it in line with the $1000 fine for littering. Also, families of victims can now make a victim impact statement when a person comes before the motor vehicle board regarding the suspension of their license because of causing a fatality. I am not certain that this will impact those with out-of- state licenses who take the lives of people on Maryland roads. We do have a lot of people commuting to Maryland for work from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. I do not think Maryland can suspend their licenses.

It appears that legislators, in key positions, are so entrenched in their thinking that they are not amenable to looking at information which may be different than what they know and believe. They behave as though they are in court arguing their case. Unfortunately, the legislature should be evaluating information rather than having legislators acting as though they are in a court room.

House Speaker Mike Busch did not do enough to press the issue with Vallario that the bill needed to come to committee vote. It appears that politics and personality disagreements are also at play. These are interfering with the enactment of legislation. The Governor is ignored. The Attorney General is ignored. The public is ignored. It is time to elect people who will evaluate legislation based on the merits of the legislation and not on their personal agendas. It is time to “clean house.”

Adiva R Sotzsky

Rockville MD


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