Milk bill gaining support

April 03, 1998


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Resurrected legislation that would place Maryland in a milk price-setting compact with other states cleared one critical hurdle Friday in the General Assembly and stood poised to pass another next week.

Supporters said they now believe there is enough support for the legislation to be approved by the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee - the same panel that defeated a similar dairy bill last month.

"I think we've got the votes," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Approval by Economic and Environmental Affairs is crucial because the General Assembly gives committees great power over whether legislation passes.

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


Farmers have been pushing the legislation as a means of bringing stability to an industry that has been steadily losing farms since 1991. Washington County is the second-largest milk-producing county in Maryland. Frederick County is the largest.

Opponents of the bill, led by supermarket chains, have called it a "milk tax" that will result in higher milk prices at grocery stores. Their aggressive lobbying was thought to have been successful when the bill was defeated by the Senate committee.

But on Tuesday the bill was given a second life when it was passed by the House of Delegates and on Friday the Senate Rules Committee gave its approval, setting up a legislative showdown next week in Economic and Environmental Affairs.

Six votes in favor of the legislation are needed in the committee for the bill to make it to the full Senate for consideration. The committee only managed three "yes" votes last month.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening lobbied for the legislation this week. The bill also has since been amended to include a "sunset" clause that would end the legislation in two years unless further action is taken.

As a result, two additional senators have said they will support the legislation. A third, Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-Howard, said he now is "leaning toward" voting for the legislation.

Committee Chairman Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltmore, remained noncommittal Friday about his opinion on the bill, but added it would get a fair review by his panel.

"We're not going to summarily kill it because we killed the other one," Blount said.

Hecht said she and Del. Ellen Willis Miller, D-Carroll, met later in the day with Blount and other committee members to discuss the bill.

By the end of the meeting Blount said he would support the legislation and another member promised to vote for the bill if it is needed for passage, Hecht said.

"I think it made a difference with the chairman," she said.

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