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Editorial - Eliminate the 'sunset'

February 14, 1997

We appreciate the willingness of Washington County's General Assembly delegation to yield a bit on their "no gambling legislation in 1997" stand. Now that they're willing to move, they need to do the most important one first, and chop out the "sunset clause" that, unless eliminated, will kill the tip-jar gaming law in 1999.

We've heard one argument that the delegation still has two more sessions to eliminate this clause, and another that says the sunset clause should stay in, to force a periodic review of this issue. We disagree with the reasoning behind both.

If the delegation allows this to go down to the wire, particularly with next year being an election year, there will be pressure from every group affected by this law. Some will want more money; others will seek less regulation. Some, we have no doubt, will argue that no law is needed, and that Washington County's taverns and clubs are now ready to do their gaming and charitable contributions on the honor system.

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But it took 20 years of legalized gambling and a citizens' task force to get lawmakers to agree to some rules for accounting for gaming revenue and disbursing some of it to charities. For those who participated in working out all of that, it was a tough job done under intense pressure. Do the lawmakers really want to review this law from top to bottom, with everything on the table again, every three to five years?

We also support elimination of the sunset clause because we don't want what seems to be a perpetually cash-poor state government to use the deadline as an excuse to horn in on local revenues. When the state comes a-knocking, Washington County officials need to be able to say that they've had a good system in place for many years, a system which benefits many local charities.

If that system, including the enforcement mechanism and citizen-member commission, is subject to a sunset, it might signal the state that folks here aren't sure that it works well. We're sure, and we'd bet that most citizens agree. Eliminate the sunset now.

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