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Legislators divided on home rule for Washington County

April 18, 2001

Legislators divided on home rule for Washington County



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A move is afoot to allow Washington County to make its own laws instead of going to the Maryland General Assembly every year.

But some members of the Washington County delegation to the legislature warned against removing that extra level of review.

Questioned at an annual post-legislative forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Donald F. Munson and Del. Christopher B. Shank said they oppose the concept.

Shank said he doesn't think Washington County has a large enough population to justify home rule. In addition, the role local lawmakers play is important.

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"We do review county legislation. We're not a rubber stamp for the County Commissioners," said Shank, R-Washington.

But Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said county voters should consider home rule. It would allow decisions to be made locally, unlike the current system, which relies on the will of the state legislature.

"The good news is you have more checks and balances. The bad news is you have more checks and balances," she said.

Washington County lawmakers got burned by the current system during the past legislative session when its proposal for a $5 increase in the marriage license fee was quashed by a powerful senator from the Eastern Shore.

Under home rule, the County Commissioners could increase the marriage license fee without General Assembly approval.

Shank said legislation that affects one jurisdiction usually sails through the legislature with no opposition.

"Nine times out of 10 local courtesy applies. Sometimes there's a fly in the ointment," he said.

Del. John P. Donoghue was not at Wednesday's meeting, which was attended by more than 125 people from the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters.

Contacted by phone later he said he favors home rule.

"I think the more local that we can keep our lawmaking the better. I hear more and more from people that they don't like big government dictating everything they do," said Donoghue, D-Washington.

The idea of home rule, which has twice been rejected by county voters, was resurrected recently by the Washington County League of Women Voters.

For home rule to be enacted, the county would have to write a charter, or constitution, to outline the powers of the county government. Instead of commissioners, voters would elect County Council members who could make new laws and change existing ones.

The yearlong task of writing the charter would be assigned to an appointed board, which would have it ready in time for the November 2004 ballot.

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