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County bills fare well as Legislature wraps up

April 14, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

ANNAPOLIS - As Maryland lawmakers still working for legislation raced the clock Monday night in anticipation of the General Assembly's midnight adjournment, Washington County legislators found themselves in an unusual position.

Every county issue had been resolved.

"It's nice to have the county bills through and not have to worry about what's going to happen to them at the last minute," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

In years past, legislators had to deal with various county issues - from a hotel tax increase to the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie - on the last night of the 90-day session.

But this year, the biggest part of the county's legislative wish list, amendments to the tip jar gambling law, was passed over the weekend. Another significant measure, which would provide nearly $2.9 million in pension debt relief for the city of Hagerstown, was approved late last week.

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"It's a relief to have the pressure off this early in the evening," Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said at about 6 p.m.

Munson and several other local lawmakers said Washington County citizens fared well during the session.

"I think this has been a really outstanding session for the county. We were fortunate we came down here in a year when there were plenty of resources. That doesn't always happen," he said.

In addition to the gambling and pension legislation, the county benefited from the approval of two bond bills - one that would provide $225,000 for a gymnasium for Girls Inc. and another that would spend $25,000 on a new practice facility for the Rohrersville Band.

"I think it was a terrific session, and a nice end to the four-year term," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, chairman of the county's legislative delegation.

Donoghue won a personal victory with the passage Saturday of a bill he sponsored that would set up an appeals and grievance process for people denied coverage by their insurers or managed-care providers. It took two years for the legislation to pass.

"For me, it was personally rewarding to see it pass," Donoghue said.

The one battle the county delegation lost was an effort to have subpoena power granted to the county Department of Social Services for use in conferences aimed at settling child support disputes. The bill was defeated by the Judiciary Committee, which is notorious for killing legislation.

"I think that was a mistake, but that's Judiciary," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Poole said the county, like the rest of the state, benefited from a $424 million budget surplus.

"Times are good and there's a lot of money. It tends to put people in a better mood," he said.

The abundance of state money was one of the reasons lawmakers were able to accelerate a 10 percent income tax cut that was passed last year and was to be phased in over five years. Instead, half of the cut will be made this year.

"I feel pretty positive coming out of the session," Munson said.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, said she felt the issues often got caught in partisan bickering.

"I thought we were all down here to do what was best for all the constituents, regardless of whether we were Republicans or Democrats," she said.

Poole said he believes the divisions in the legislature were more regional than political, citing the battle rural lawmakers waged to get passage last week of legislation that would set milk price supports for dairy farmers.

The bill is expected to have significant local impact because Washington County is the second-largest milk-producing county in the state. Frederick County is the largest.

Poole said rural alliances also led to an agriculture runoff bill that's friendlier to farmers than the stricter controls Gov. Parris N. Glendening originally proposed.

"I think for the people who are always saying rural communities don't have a voice down here and don't have clout, I think we've proven we do have clout," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

For Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington, the end of the session also marked the end of her eight-year tenure in the House. The close for Stup, who is not seeking re-election, came with victory on two significant issues - the milk bill and the passage of legislation she sponsored that would require parents of school children to be notified when pesticides have been used at their schools.

"That was very nice," Stup said.

Stup said she wasn't feeling too nostalgic about her last day in the House chamber because she was too busy. But she said there's no doubt she will miss the legislature.

"These people have been my family for eight years, good and bad," she said.

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