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Lack of bill requests lightens Md. legislative session

January 28, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — In the third week of a 90-day legislative session, the Washington County delegation is nearly done with its collective work.

This year's load has been as light as Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the delegation chairman, can remember.

Usually, Washington County government makes several bill requests. This year, it made just one.

And the county's liquor board has asked for three bills to be introduced.

In one meeting last week and one this week, the delegation voted to move ahead with the bills and ironed out the details.

Aside from shepherding bills through committees, the delegation essentially ended its group business for the session — unless something else comes up. Delegation members also will have individual bills to pursue.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, the delegation chairman from 2003 to 2006, agreed with Myers.

"I've never seen a workload this light," he said.

Shank said he's glad because the state budget and other issues will require plenty of time and attention.

"I appreciate the county commissioners going light on us," he said.

The county asked for a bill related to its annual $500,000 contribution to a water and sewer debt-reduction fund. The county has been paying down its water, sewer and pretreatment debt, and the legislation will no longer be needed, according to a letter from Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey.

An amendment prevents the cost of a pretreatment facility from being factored into water and sewer rates.

Shank said the bill codifies what the county already does.

The county also considered a bill to require notifying buyers of a possible stormwater management structure on their property. But Downey said Thursday that the county decided that it might be a more appropriate bill for a statewide group to pursue.

The Washington County Board of License Commissioners asked for bills giving it the authority to grant a microbrewery license, allow up to two wine festivals in the county a year and to conduct background checks.

The nonprofit One Mountain Foundation asked for the wine-festival legislation. The group probably would hold a wine festival around the fall of 2012, Bill Carter, the foundation's board chairman, said Thursday.

Another group could apply to hold the other wine festival in the county that year.

Shank said a state attorney general's opinion indicates that it would be unconstitutional to force festivals to have only Maryland wines.

However, a less restrictive guideline could be used, such as making Maryland wines the "primary focus" of a local festival, Shank said.

Two liquor board members made their requests to the delegation by speaker phone from Hagerstown on Wednesday, instead of driving to Annapolis as a snowstorm approached.

One board member, Charles F. Mades, said the other 22 counties in the state and Baltimore City have the authority to do background checks on liquor license applicants, but Washington County does not.

Asked by Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, what the board would do if it finds that an applicant has a criminal background, Mades, a former Washington County sheriff, said it would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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