Legislators mull raising marriage fee for Arundel Extra revenue would support abuse shelters

January 26, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Domestic violence appears to be rising in Anne Arundel County, and if counselors at the county's battered spouse program have their way, so too would the marriage license fee surcharge used to help combat it.

County officials want the General Assembly's permission to increase a $25 surcharge on marriage licenses to $45. The fee is used to operate shelters for abused women and to counsel abusive men.

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the fee increase. But at least one delegate believes the bill should be amended to increase the fees charged in case of divorce as well.

Del. John Gary, a Millersville Republican, said he believes the proposed increase is too steep, noting that it raises the cost of a marriage license to $55 -- the $10 license, plus the $45 surcharge. He wants it offset with new fees on divorce decrees.

"I doubt [the new surcharge] will cause people to enter 'unholy' lifestyles," Mr. Gary said. But "it does appear we're punishing people who want to get married by making them pay for broken homes."

The problem is an increasing number of families are seeking help from the county's Battered Spouse Program, said Michaele Cohen, director of the YWCA Woman's Center of Anne Arundel County.

The YWCA, which operates the county's shelter and counseling programs, helped 790 different people in 1992, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, Ms. Cohen said. Meanwhile, traditional financing -- including state grants and private donations -- are way down.

About 4,128 couples paid the $25 surcharge last year, generating a total of $105,900 for the YWCA's domestic violence programs. The county allocated another $85,262.

But Ms. Cohen said she expects county financing to drop off as Executive Robert R. Neall fulfills his pledge to reduce the size of the local government. She said the United Way also has cut funding due to a decline in donations during the recession. The increased surcharges would at least offset those losses, Ms. Cohen said.

State law sets $25 as the maximum surcharge counties may collect to pay for domestic violence programs. But the legislature already has made exceptions for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said Ms. Cohen, during a meeting last Friday with the county's 18 state senators and delegates.

The county House delegation is to decide next week if it will endorse the fee increase and send it to the full General Assembly, said Del. Michael Busch, an Annapolis Democrat and delegation chairman.

Mr. Gary said he will either amend the bill to include a fee on divorce decrees or submit separate legislation.

Also on Friday, the county Board of Education asked the House delegation to sponsor a bill that would specify when the student member, who has full voting power, begins and ends his one-year term. Under the bill, the term would begin with the appointment by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and end June 30 the following year.

The issue arose last July when the board was selecting a new superintendent. Some members objected to the student who had graduated in June participating.

The student now serves -- as do adult board members -- until the governor appoints a replacement.

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