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Hagerstown fire marshal bill causes squabble

Measure would clarify marshals' law enforcement powers

Measure would clarify marshals' law enforcement powers

January 31, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A bill to clarify law enforcement powers for Hagerstown fire marshals got caught up in confusion and debate Wednesday morning over who would sponsor it.

The bill came up during the Washington County delegation's weekly meeting. It was among various bills requested by the county and the city of Hagerstown.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who represents the city, would submit the bill individually and Munson would cross-file a Senate version.

But Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, the delegation chairman, said a letter from the Hagerstown Fire Department asked for a delegation bill, which also is how the bill was framed during a delegation meeting with the city.

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Donoghue was not at Wednesday's delegation meeting. Last week, he said they're "not a productive use" of his time and he doesn't plan to attend any this session.

Asked Wednesday afternoon about the fire marshal bill, Donoghue said he would file it in the House and Munson would file a Senate version.

"It's the city of Hagerstown," he said. "That's my district. If other delegates want to add Clear Spring or Boonsboro, they ought to put bills in on their own."

"It just gets aggravating when it's pull and tug and push, who's going to get the bill in," Myers said during Wednesday's meeting. He said the bill affects a government entity within the county, therefore, "it should not have been put in as an individual bill."

Delegation bills are more likely to get a favorable reaction from the rest of the General Assembly than individual bills, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Munson, however, said someone in the fire department specifically asked that the bill be filed individually.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, questioned why the fire department could dictate how a bill would be filed.

"This is a constituent, OK?" Munson replied. "This is a friend, OK?"

"I don't appreciate the lecture," Weldon later said, referring to Munson's comment, before proposing a compromise: The delegation write a letter of support for the bill that Donoghue and Munson would file.

Munson thanked Weldon.

"I've told you in the past you're a class act," Munson said. "You continue to prove it."

Delegation members voted in favor of the letter, except Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who voted no.

In a phone interview, Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said the bill is an attempt to clarify law enforcement powers that city fire marshals are meant to have.

State fire marshals can carry guns and make arrests. Hawbaker said local fire marshals are supposed to have the same powers through the state fire marshal's office.

When questions came up elsewhere in Maryland about a year ago, Hagerstown backed off on those powers until the situation was clarified, Hawbaker said.

He said the fire department talked to Donoghue and Munson because they're the local state representatives.

"For us, the important thing is that the legislation get submitted," he said. "We don't understand who submits (bills), or who writes them, or anything else."

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