ANNAPOLIS — Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and volunteer firefighterFred Hooper urged the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday to pass a bill that would permit county fire and police officers to equip theirpersonal vehicles with portable red and white lights.
The bill issponsored by the Carroll delegation.
The flashing lights, which would be turned on only while the vehicle is stationary and at an emergency scene, are needed to alert approaching motorists, protect the safety of the fire and police officersand other respondents, and free police for other duties at the site.
The designated volunteer firefighters currently use flares, flashlights and their car blinkers to warn motorists of an accident on theroad ahead.
Hooper, of the Pleasant Valley Fire Co., said motorists often ignore warnings. He told the committee that red and white flashing lights on the hood would command more respect.
The committee has defeated the bill for the last three years, largely because state police oppose it. The state police say use of the flashing lights could confuse the public and muddle state laws designating certain lights for certain vehicles. The agency also is concerned that fire andpolice officers could abuse the privilege and use the lights in transit.
Hickman said he would donate $500 out of his pocket if the bill was passed: "That's how strongly I feel about it."
Hickman wrote a Nov. 25 letter to the governor urging him to support the bill, perhaps statewide.
"It seems most unjust that we call upon these volunteers to risk their lives and give up so much time with their families and yet our government is too small-minded to trust them with displaying these lights," he wrote. "We owe them better than this."
He explained to the committee that fire and police officers provide a "valuable service" by holding back onlookers at accident scenes and securing the area so that police officers can conduct their business. He said that accidents occur frequently on Carroll roads, which generally are unlighted and have high speed limits and many curves.
He said that state troopers in Carroll and municipal police chiefs do not object to the bill.
ARTS ALSO NEED MONEY
ANNAPOLIS -- The Carroll County Arts Council executive director and supporters of the non-profit organization urged the Carroll delegation toconsider during budget deliberations the contributions culture and the arts provide to the community.
Director Hillary Anne Pierce showed the delegation a video at the Wednesday meeting featuring councilprograms aimed at increasing an appreciation of the arts.
The county slashed the council's budget almost in half -- from $29,000 in fiscal 1991 to $15,000 this year. At the same time, the state's financial support for arts institutions has declined, resulting in other reductions in the council's budget.
"The continued decrease of arts funding on behalf of the state and local governments sends a strong message to the citizens that culture, discipline creativity, diversity,discovery and communication are not essential to our society," Pierce, the lone paid staffer, wrote the delegation.
SMELSER EYES WASTE
ANNAPOLIS -- Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll,Frederick, Howard, said he has learned that many state employees received increased salaries last year and new employees were hired for what presumably were frozen positions.
Some employees received increased salaries (though state employees weren't given raises this year) by being classified into different pay groups, said Smelser, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Last week, Smelser's subcommittee grilled correctional officials on "gimmicks" they might have used to increase employees' pay.
Smelser said the numbers of new hires and employees who received increases aren't known.
While a group of Senate leaders works on a comprehensive tax plan, Smelser said he has joined another contingent working on ways to reduce the budget.
EQUIPMENT BILL PASSED
ANNAPOLIS -- Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, is the first Carroll delegate to have a bill passed on the floor of the House this year.
His emergency bill requiring the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to recover durable equipment, such as wheelchairs and walkers, from medical assistance recipients passed, 137-0, Thursday.
The bill is intended to save the state money on equipment purchases byredistributing existing equipment once it is no longer needed to other clients. If it passes the Senate, it would become law upon being signed by the governor.
Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore,is sponsoring a bill that passed the Senate that would implement a one-time $13.50 registration fee for historic vehicles.
GUN HEARING SLATED
ANNAPOLIS -- The House Judiciary Committee will have hearings at 3 p.m. Monday in the Joint Hearing Room on gun-related bills, including two sponsored by the governor that would ban the sale and possession of certain "assault-style" weapons and require that minors can't gain access to firearms.