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Munson will fight animal legislation

December 12, 2002|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson says he plans to fight proposed legislation that would give the Humane Society's animal control officers the authority to file criminal charges against violators of the animal control ordinance.

Munson said this week he believes that power should lie solely with law enforcement officers.

Washington County government is considering pushing for that legislation in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session. The law would allow the county to amend its animal control ordinance with the new provision and make some violations a misdemeanor.

Animal control officers currently have the authority to levy civil and monetary penalties, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the proposal is a result of one or two residents whose children have been bitten by dogs and who have asked the county to "do something" about it.

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The County Commissioners discussed the proposal at Tuesday's meeting.

"I think we're looking for trouble if we get this going. Big trouble," Munson said. "Those guys should not have the power to do it. They are not trained law enforcement officers."

Douglas said that when police receive calls about animal complaints now, they call animal control officers for assistance. Giving the animal control officers the authority to file criminal charges would make the enforcement process more efficient, he said.

He said the change to the county ordinance is necessary because the current state law dealing with enforcement issues is weak and full of holes.

"If the state law was sufficient, we wouldn't need an animal control ordinance," Douglas said.

Maria Procopio, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, could not be reached for comment Wednesday at the office or on her cell phone.

Daniel A. Murphy, a member of the Animal Control Authority, said Wednesday he can't recall the authority being approached by the county on the issue and had no comment. He said he would like the authority to discuss the proposed change with the commissioners.

County documents state the Animal Control Authority "has indicated its support of this proposal."

Authority Chairman Tom Digerolomo could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, said Wednesday night he wanted more information on the proposal before he could comment.

"Animal control shouldn't have the authority to bring criminal penalties," Munson said. "I'll fight that tooth and nail to the end. That's wrong."

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