By GUY FLETCHER
Some local issues addressed this year in the Maryland General Assembly include:
- Labor - When the Washington County Commissioners decertified the union that represents Roads Department, landfill and County Commuter workers, the county's legislative delegation introduced legislation that would force the commissioners back into collective bargaining. The action set off a turf war between Hagerstown and Annapolis, but the legislation easily passed.
- Pensions - The city of Hagerstown's pension debt crisis - the city owed $9.69 million to the state pension system - led the delegation to introduce legislation under which the state would have cut the debt in half. The bill was later amended to give the city half that amount, or about $2.5 million. The bill was passed by the legislature on Monday.
- Bonds - Lawmakers were able to secure state funds for a number of county projects, including: $175,000 for Memorial Recreation Center; $75,000 for Hancock's community center; and $35,000 for Mentally Impaired or Handicapped Individuals Inc., known as MiHi, to purchase playground equipment that is accessible to people with disabilities.
- Milk - Legislation sponsored by Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington, would have set minimum milk prices. The goal was to bolster the state's ailing dairy industry, but a heavy lobbying campaign was waged against the bill by retail stores that contended the bill would inflate prices. The legislation was defeated in the House of Delegates.
- Gambling - A strange on-again, off-again bid to make minor amendments to the county's tip jar gambling regulations found the delegation agreeing - after first rejecting a proposal - to make minor amendments to the gaming law. But the legislation, along with other gambling bills in the state, was never brought to the House of Delegates or Senate floors amid fears by some lawmakers that it would be amended to expand gambling elsewhere in the state.
- Economic Development - A seemingly noncontroversial bill that would establish a public-private agency to guide the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie when the base closes next year faced formidable opposition from Senate leaders who said the legislation was not needed and that an existing state organization could take charge of the project. A compromise bill that eliminated the agency's ability to buy and sell bonds was passed.
- Prisons - Many local correctional officers and union leaders were angry about legislation that would allow them to be transferred involuntarily from the prison complex south of Hagerstown to other facilities throughout the state. But they claimed victory when the bill was amended to restrict transfers to prisons within a 50-mile radius.
- Schools - As part of the deal to spend $254 million on Baltimore city schools over the next five years, the General Assembly approved a plan that also would spend another $33.4 million statewide. That will mean an extra $981,181 for county schools and Hagerstown Junior College next year.