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Issues delegation likely to consider

January 05, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

For two years Washington County's delegation to the General Assembly spent its legislative sessions in Annapolis with one chief local issue in mind: tip jar gambling.

First came passage in 1995 of the law that regulated the popular form of paper gaming in the county. Then last year the delegation spent the entire session getting an overhaul of the tip jar legislation passed.

"It totally consumed the delegation for the past two years," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

This year will likely be different, said local legislators who predict only minor changes could be made to the gambling law during the 90-day session that starts this Wednesday.

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"My guess is there's not going to be a lot to do with gambling," Munson said.

One concern some delegation members have expressed is that Gov. Parris N. Glendening's vow to veto any gambling bill - specifically slot machines at race tracks - could hurt even local legislation.

"There's a real possibility that if we tinker with the tip jar law we could get shot down," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

In fact, several county legislators say while statewide issues such as tax cuts and growth control will spark serious debate, most local legislation could be relatively minor this year.

The delegation will decide in the coming weeks what local issues it will pursue this year, but some county issues that will likely come before the General Assembly include:

Several area organizations are seeking bond funds from the state this year. They include: $300,000 for the Hagerstown Armory Youth Consortium; $250,000 for a new Community Rescue Service headquarters; $250,000 for the Memorial Recreation Center; and $75,000 for the town of Hancock.

Munson, a member of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, said the Glendening will likely cap bond funds at about $15 to $20 million statewide, with about $120 million in requests coming to the legislature. That could limit the county's share to a total of about $300,000, he said.

There could also be an attempt to secure bond funding to pay for a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns. But the delegation has not received a formal request yet, and some members are dubious about the chances of getting such funding approved in when bond funds are already tight.

"I think it's a tough sell, particularly because it competes directly or indirectly with a lot of other projects in Washington County," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

It also comes at a time when stadiums aren't exactly popular in the state, especially among taxpayers wary of the millions the state has already spent on sports facilities in Baltimore and Prince George's County.

"I think it's an attitude. People are really down on stadiums," Munson said.

The state's forest conservation law has been nagging delegation members for years. The law, which requires trees to be planted on developed land, has been the target of pro-business advocates who say it hurts economic development. They say it is particularly damaging in this part of the state because cost-conscious businesses can move short distances to states that don't have the tree restrictions.

Advocates of amending the law also say there is no need for the tree law in Washington County because it already has plenty of trees in comparison to other parts of the state.

But past attempts to change the law have failed. Last year a bill made it through the House of Delegates but died in the Senate, which is considered to be the more liberal house. For that reason, delegation members say any attempt to change the law will have to start in the Senate this year.

"Why waste a lot of time and effort. Let it start there," McKee said.

Munson isn't optimistic about the chances.

"We can't even get the rest of the state to look at common sense issues in regards to the tree law," he said.

The delegation will likely submit a bill to increase the size of the Washington County Board of education from five members to seven. The proposed legislation has the support of the current school board and is not expected to face opposition in the General Assembly.

Poole said he would also like to look into the issue of possibly forming election districts in the county, to ensure that voters beyond the Hagerstown area are also represented on the school board and other government bodies.

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