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House passes first local bills

March 19, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Delegation got the first two of its 10 local bills through the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday.

With an important deadline approaching next week, most of the other bills appear headed for passage this session, which ends April 12.

"In terms of the noncontroversial bills, I think we're doing fine," said Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Two local bills that are now headed for the Senate deal with the Washington County Board of License Commissioners, commonly known as the liquor board.

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One requires owners or supervisors at county liquor stores to attend an alcohol awareness program.

The other blocks the liquor board from issuing a license to someone who owes court fines.

Most of the rest of the delegation's legislative package is making steady progress through the legislature.

Facing problems, however, is legislation to overhaul the PenMar Development Corp., a state-created agency charged with bringing jobs to the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade.

Opponents, who include PenMar board members and Cascade residents, have been heavily lobbying the House Economic Matters Committee to kill the bill.

Shank has been trying, so far without success, to come up with changes that will placate them.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said committee members have told him they don't want to get in the middle of the issue.

"They're calling it the Hatfields and McCoys of Western Maryland and the issue belongs back home," he said.

One other local bill has generated some controversy.

Lobbyists for the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association have been trying to kill legislation to prevent the association from becoming a tip jar wholesaler.

Lawmakers argue that in order to maintain accountability for tip jar gambling the association should not be able to sell tip jar supplies to its members, who operate the jars for charity.

So far the bills have withstood the lobbying effort.

The rest of the local bills would:

  • Repeal an arcane oath of office that applies to sheriff's deputies and deputy clerks, requiring them to take the same constitutional oath that applies to other government officials.

  • Allow the county to have two deputy state's attorneys by converting a lower-paid assistant state's attorney position.

  • Allow the Washington County Commissioners to borrow $75 million for schools, highways and other capital projects.

  • Clarify that money from the county's building excise tax may be spent on higher education as well as on elementary and secondary education.

  • Clarify that the County Commissioners have the power to collect Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance fees.

  • Set up a Water and Sewer Infrastructure Commission for the county.


In order to move smoothly through the legislative process, all the bills should pass the House by the March 29 crossover deadline.

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