Session tough, but several local bills succeed

April 13, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Local legislators successfully pushed this year for subpoena power for the Maryland State Prosecutor, less bureaucracy for people seeking long-term medical care and a new excise-tax structure for Washington County.

Those were among about two dozen bills sponsored by county delegation members that were approved. About the same number of bills from delegation members failed.

Delegation members also obtained $425,000 for local capital projects, out of a statewide pool of $25 million.

Early in the session, Washington County's delegation lost a longtime member, Robert A. McKee, to resignation, as word got out about a police investigation into child pornography at his home. (Eight weeks later, McKee has not been charged.)

For part of January, most delegation members turned their attention to light bulbs -- an Allegheny Power energy-conservation measure backfired when customers and lawmakers protested costs they weren't aware of. Allegheny apologized and agreed to refund the money it collected.


Later in the session, delegation members fought for full University System of Maryland at Hagerstown funding after a House subcommittee tried to pull it away.

"The first 45 days of the session were almost as bad as it gets," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, noting that both a sitting senator and a former senator also died during that period. A sitting delegate died in late November.

"When you have to face your mortality again and again and again ..." Munson said, trailing off.

He included in that down period the February fire that ruined a chunk of Boonsboro's downtown.

"Then, the fight for the university (center in Hagerstown) began, and that kind of set the tone," Munson said.

The USM-Hagerstown funding battle ended on a positive note for the county and the delegation, as 95 percent of the center's fiscal year 2009 budget was restored a few days before the session ended.

The General Assembly passed almost all of the bills sponsored by the delegation as a whole, including the final piece of a plan to switch the county's excise tax from a flat fee to one based on square footage.

Other approved delegation bills amend the duties of the county clerk, allow sidewalk cafés to serve alcohol in Hagerstown and set permit requirements for certain large events.

Some lawmakers used an amendment to a local roads bills to leverage a compromise between the delegation and county commissioners over the closure of the East Oak Ridge Drive bridge in Funkstown. When they reached an agreement, the bill died.

Individual bills

For the third year in a row, Sen. Alex X. Mooney's attempt to extend hate-crimes protection to homeless people failed. It passed the Senate for the second time, but hit a dead end in the House Judiciary committee, where the chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's, didn't bring it to a vote.

"You've got to pressure the guy," Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said of Vallario, suggesting that House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, might be asked to call for a committee vote.

Even so, Mooney called the 2008 session "probably the most acceptable session I've ever had" for his own legislation.

Two proposals he backed were approved, although the General Assembly passed the House versions of the bills rather than Mooney's Senate versions.

One bill creates a Web site the public can search for state expenses of more than $25,000. The other is to set up a state Clean Energy Center, an information clearinghouse that U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., wants.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, found success with some medical-industry bills.

Once again, Donoghue sponsored the bill authorizing funding for the Medbank of Maryland program, which lets thousands of needy state residents get millions of dollars worth of free medicine.

His other bills allow pharmacists to administer certain vaccinations, let physicians become immediately eligible for insurance reimbursement from carriers and help clinical labs and physicians that provide anatomic pathology services get reimbursed.

Two separate Donoghue bills to change aspects of the Correctional Officers' Retirement System did not succeed.

Donoghue and Munson jointly pushed through legislation to guarantee law enforcement power to Hagerstown's fire marshals.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said he had a better year individually than as chair of the Frederick County delegation, which had four bills, but only one passed.

He said some of his approved individual bills fit with the social services work of his new job as United Way of Frederick County's president and CEO.

One bill creates a preferential state contract system for people with disabilities, like the existing program for minorities. Weldon said there's a "graduation" component -- contractors who succeed on their own no longer will be eligible for state help.

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