Supporters said the weaker bill - amended to conform with similar legislation passed by the Senate Monday night - would still help farmers and milk processors counter unfair competition from Virginia and Pennsylvania, where minimum prices already are set by state milk commissions.
"This is an attempt to level the playing field between Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil.
With their prices controlled at home, processors in Virginia and Pennsylvania now can afford to dump their excess supply at cut-rate prices in Maryland, he said. Farmers insist that has been part of the reason that the state's $1 billion dairy industry lost 20 percent of its farms in the past four years.
Local farmers, many of whom have supported the bill, believe there is much at stake. Washington County is the second-largest milk-producing county in the state, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Frederick County is the largest.
Opponents of the bill have argued that the legislation would lead to higher milk prices that would lead to less milk consumption and eventually actually hurt farmers.
One opponent, Del. Michael W. Burns, took aim at the bill's formal title, the "Fairness in Milk Marketing Act of 1997." He proposed that the bill be amended to be called the "Unfairness in Milk Marketing Act of 1997" because it would help only certain special interests by inflating milk prices.
"This is not about fairness," said Burns, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
That amendment failed, but the proposal to remove the retail price controls passed.
Stup said she would have preferred to keep the retail controls in, but maintained that the wholesale controls will still help the competitive imbalance that exists.
She said the amendment is simply a reality of the intense lobbying campaign being waged against the bill - mainly by grocery stores who fear their milk prices would rise artificially.
"If we had the money the other side has, we could do a lot more," Stup said.
A final House vote on the legislation is expected later this week.