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Milk bill gains support

April 03, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

ANNAPOLIS - Supporters of legislation that would set milk price supports in Maryland said Thursday momentum is building for the bill - once considered dead - to be approved in the state Senate.

"I just know there's a good chance," said Sen. John W. Derr, R-Frederick/Washington.

Derr and other supporters of the legislation had their hopes buoyed Wednesday when Gov. Parris N. Glendening personally visited key senators in an effort to get the bill passed.

Since then they believe they have been picking up crucial votes for the legislation.

"That's good to have the momentum. That's what it's all about down here," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

The legislation would allow Maryland to join the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, a federally created organization that has been setting the minimum price farmers receive in the New England states since last July.

Farmers believe the bill is necessary to restore stability to an ailing industry that has been steadily losing farms since 1991. Washington County is the second-largest milk-producing county in the state. Frederick County is the largest.

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Supporters hope the bill, which was narrowly approved by the House of Delegates on Tuesday, will be approved by the Senate Rules Committee by today. It would then go to the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee for consideration.

That panel killed a similar version of the bill by an 8-3 vote a month ago, partly because of a lobbying campaign waged by grocery retailers and others who said the bill would be a "milk tax" that would result in higher costs for consumers.

At least six votes in favor of the legislation would be needed in the 11-member committee for the bill to make it to the Senate floor and be approved before the General Assembly adjourns April 13.

Sen. David R. Craig, R-Harford, a committee member and supporter of the bill, said he believes some people have changed positions since the earlier vote and the latest committee tally is 5-5.

One of the committee members who changed his mind is Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County. Collins voted against the bill last month, but said he now intends to vote for the legislation.

He said part of the reason is the legislation is "a better bill" than the version the committee previously killed, mainly because it includes a provision that limits the legislation's effect to two years.

But Collins said it was the governor's personal appeal that had the most impact on his change of position.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's, a committee member who voted against the bill last month, said he remains firm in his opposition, despite Glendening's lobbying.

"I have not been convinced yet," Pinsky said.

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