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Annapolis closes book on several local issues

April 13, 1998

Washington County issues addressed during the Maryland General Assembly's 1998 session:

Gambling - The county's legislative delegation was successful in getting approval for the biggest part of its legislative package, two bills that amend the county's tip jar gaming regulations. One bill changes the way gaming proceeds are distributed to charity. Another measure removes the July 1, 1999, expiration date on the current regulations.

The distribution change will mean an estimated $1.35 million more would be funneled to local charities through the Gaming Commission through a requirement that private clubs donate 15 percent of gross profits in cash.

Pension debt - County lawmakers were able to secure legislative approval for nearly $2.9 million in state relief for the city of Hagerstown's pension debt, after overcoming some opposition in the House of Delegates. The legislation, if signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would be in addition to the $2.5 million the state gave the city last year.

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Milk - Legislation that would allow Maryland to join a milk price-setting compact with other northeastern states was approved in comeback style by the legislature, despite claims it would increase the price of milk in grocery stores. The measure, sponsored by the Western Maryland delegation, is aimed at helping the state's ailing dairy farms, 25 percent of which have gone out of business since 1991.

Schools - The state's booming economy gave Glendening and lawmakers a chance to give schools across the state an extra $67.8 million, in addition that distributed through to the standard education funding formula. Most of the money will go to metropolitan-area schools, but Washington County schools will get an extra $1.1 million.

Liquor - There will be several changes in county liquor regulations as a result of legislative action. Legislation increases the number of hours bars can be open on Sundays preceding federal holidays and allows restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays. Also, salaries will increase for liquor board members.

Bonds - Two county requests for state funds for local projects were approved, including a $250,000 matching grant to Girls Inc. to build a new gymnasium for the organization. The second bond bill would pay $25,000 in state money for a new practice facility for the Rohrersville Band.

Health care - Legislation intended to prevent managed-care providers from charging more for Medicare-replacement benefits in rural areas did not pass. But lawmakers said they were satisfied that federal regulators would prevent HMOs from increasing prices or denying coverage for rural customers in the future.

- Guy Fletcher

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