Ethics bills among 20 to be presented to public

November 04, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Ethics, jury trials, domestic violence and marriage licenses are among the topics addressed by 20 local bills the Howard County legislative delegation plans to present to the public tomorrow night.

The delegation plans to begin voting on the bills Nov. 18 and will present those that pass to the General Assembly in January.

One of the more contentious debates should revolve around competing ethics bills, proposed by Dels. Martin G. Madden and Virginia M. Thomas.

Mr. Madden has proposed requiring anybody with a 5 percent interest in a rezoning request to submit an affidavit disclosing any contributions of more than $500 over four years to a Howard County official. The affidavits would include names and amounts and be available for public inspection in Ellicott City.

"All we're trying to do is level the playing field," said Mr. Madden, referring to the increasing perception in the county that contributions may be influencing the zoning process. Mr. Madden, a Republican from Clarksville, said the bill would give citizens a better idea of who actually is contributing to government.

"You try to crack a limited partnership and find out who's really behind it," he said. "It's hard to do."

Why not lower the contribution disclosure requirement to $100?

"I couldn't get the votes to pass it with a lower threshold," Mr. Maddensaid.

Ms. Thomas, a Democrat from Columbia, said she was unimpressed with the bill.

"That thing's a farce," she said. "It's the most unethical piece of legislation I've seen in a long time."

Ms. Thomas said the bill had huge loopholes. Specifically, it does not require applicants for rezonings to include contributions to slates of candidates. For instance, she said, someone could contribute more than $500 to a candidate through a slate and never have to disclose it.

"It's a loophole you could drive an Amtrak train through," she said.

Mr. Madden dismissed the criticism. He said that once someone gave money to a political party, he or she could not be sure where the money went.

Ms. Thomas, on the other hand, wants to require candidates to filetheir financial disclosure statements not only in Annapolis, but also in Ellicott City. She said this would make it easier for citizens to keep an eye on the relations between developers and public officials.

Mr. Madden doesn't think much of the proposal. "It does absolutely nothing," he said.

Nothing is also what a lot of potential county jurors spend their time doing, Mr. Madden said. After recently spending a month on jury duty, he has recommended a new one day/one trial system.

Instead of having to wait around the courthouse day after day, jurors would be tapped for only one trial during each term of jury duty. Currently, potential jurors have to show up at the courthouse eight days over a four-week period. Mr. Madden said the bill would both save money and prevent aggravation.

On the home front, Ms. Thomas has proposed allowing the county council to raise the marriage license fee to as high as $35 to help pay for local domestic violence programs. Half of the current $10 fee goes to such programs right now.

Stephanie Sites, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, said the center could use extra funds to staff more women's support and children's play therapy groups. The center has had to turn away 122 people since July because it does not have enough beds, Ms. Sites said.

Mr. Madden opposes the bill because he sees it as a tax. He also said he didn't understand why marriage licenses should provide further funding for the programs.

"I don't see how anyone can make a correlation that marriages are responsible for domestic violence," he said.

Ms. Thomas said she thought it was appropriate, because half of the center's clients are married. And, she noted, although it is an extra fee, "it's not going to stop anyone from getting married."

The hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Banneker Room of the county office building.

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