Maryland Governor Pushes Hike in Age for Teen Drivers

January 29, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will push state legislators to raise the minimum age for teen drivers and strengthen penalties for those who repeatedly drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he announced Monday.

The proposals were two of roughly 20 bills O’Malley said he would sponsor Monday as part of his 2009 legislative agenda, which is typically given high priority by state legislators. The package included everything from extending unemployment insurance to part-time workers and expanding efforts to protect homeowners from foreclosure to helping prospective shellfish growers establish Maryland businesses. As he discussed last week, O’Malley also plans to push to repeal the death penalty, prohibit the state police from spying on activists they do not suspect of criminal activity and commit Maryland to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent from 2006 levels by the year 2020.

The governor said Monday he wants to raise the age for getting a learner’s permit from 15 years and nine months to 16 years old. Drivers would have to be 16 1/2 to get a provisional driver’s license, rather than 16 years and 3 months. And drivers couldn’t get a full, “graduated” license until they were 18. The current age is 17 years and nine months.

Some legislators were skeptical that a three-month delay in getting a license would make a difference.

“For what?” House Republican Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell asked. “What is the purported benefit of three months?”

Delegate Bill Bronrott, D-Montgomery, said national studies show “even small changes in the startup age can make a difference.”

“Let’s give our teens a little bit more time to develop,” Bronrott said.

O’Malley will revisit the issue of speed cameras, calling upon the General Assembly to authorize using speed cameras in highway work zones and allowing them in local jurisdictions that want them. The governor also included a measure that would require judges to order a domestic abuser to surrender firearms while he or she is subject to a final protective order. Currently, the law gives the judge the discretion to do so.

Last year, O’Malley announced support for similar legislation in February, but members of the Maryland Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly opposed the bills. Several members said they worried about limiting the right to bear arms and judicial discretion.

Committee vice chairman Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, said Monday, however, that because O’Malley had included the bill in his legislative package this time and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown’s cousin was fatally shot last year in what may have been a domestic abuse case, many would be ready to give the measure a “fresh look.”

Republican Delegate and committee member Don Dwyer, of Anne Arundel County, said he worked to defeat the bill last year and would try to do so again.

“This could be abused,” Dwyer said. “A disgruntled wife or girlfriend could ask for a protective order over an argument they had with a spouse or boyfriend and cause them to give up their guns.”

Minority leader O’Donnell said he, too, was opposed: “This is gun control, that’s what it is.”

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