Maryland would fine drunken drivers to provide restitution

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland legislators and Episcopal Church leaders are taking action in response to a manslaughter case involving a bishop accused of killing a cyclist while driving drunk and texting.

State lawmakers would provide restitution to victims by fining drunken drivers, while Episcopal Church leaders are considering tougher scrutiny in church elections.

A bill outlined Tuesday could fine people who cause injury or death while driving with a blood-alcohol content of twice the legal limit, or driving on a suspended or revoked license. The fines also could apply if injury or death is caused by someone with a prior arrest resulting in a conviction, plea, or sentence of probation before judgment within the last five years.

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, now on leave, faces 13 counts in the death of bicyclist Thomas Palermo in Baltimore in December, including automobile manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, texting while driving and failure to remain at the scene.

"That accident has moved the General Assembly to action on drunk driving again," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

Separately, the head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, announced on Tuesday that she had further restricted Cook's ministry while the denomination investigates her case. Cook, the second-ranking bishop in the Diocese of Maryland, cannot present herself as a priest in good standing during the inquiry, according to the new restriction.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, an officer of the Episcopal Church's legislative body, urged her fellow deputies to develop a new process for selecting bishops. Cook's election was a "seeming failure of the process," Jennings said, since not all those voting knew she had been convicted before of drunken driving.

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