Ethics bill fulfills pledge

April 08, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

He made it a campaign pledge during his first run for state office in 1990, and now Del. Martin G. Madden, R-13B, says he's finally delivered a law to help calm residents' concerns that zoning decisions are being unduly influenced by developers' money.

The legislation, which requires applicants for zoning changes to disclose contributions of $500 or more over a four-year period to Howard County Council members -- who serve as the zoning board -- has passed the House and Senate. An amendment must be approved before the bill can be sent to the governor for his signature by the close of the General Assembly session Monday night.

"I think this is a big step forward for the citizens of Howard County," Mr. Madden said yesterday.

The Howard delegation also is anxiously awaiting word on how much state money the county will receive for school construction. Earlier, the county received $4.7 million toward the construction of River Hill High School.

The county has requested $8.7 million for an Eastern High School, $1.5 million for a Northeastern Middle School and $2.7 million for renovations to older schools as top priorities. The state expects to award $57.6 million more for school construction projects out of $104.3 million in requests throughout Maryland.

"It appears as if Howard County has successfully promoted the needs of the county, and those needs are being recognized. I think we'll be funded reasonably well," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R-14.

Mr. Madden and Del. John S. Morgan, R-13B, have worked toward enacting the ethics bill, which was defeated the last three years, since their first session in 1991.

Mr. Morgan said the bill is intended to address a perception among residents that contributions from developers seeking zoning changes to County Council members -- who serve as the zoning board -- have an undue influence on zoning decisions, which often increase the value of land.

"Money probably hasn't had [a large effect], but now it's possible for us to say that all the cards are on the table," Mr. Morgan said. "The process will be open for everyone to see."

But Del. Virginia M. Thomas, D-13A, charges that the bill is deceptive, saying it has loopholes "you could run an Amtrak train through." Ms. Thomas tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill before it was introduced.

She contends, based on a Howard County Office of Law opinion, that the bill applies narrowly to piecemeal residential rezoning requests, such as a farmer requesting a higher housing density for his land. It doesn't include commercial developments, and apparently doesn't address the county General Plan and comprehensive rezoning plans, which cause the most uproar among residents, she said.

"For some reason, some people in the delegation are pushing a bill that does 5 percent of what they're pretending to the public that it does," Ms. Thomas said.

Other local bills that appear headed for the governor's desk in the session's last four days include legislation that would:

* Grant up to $400,000 in state money to a Howard County Performing Arts Center at Wilde Lake High School, to be matched by the Howard County Arts Council and county government.

* Grant up to $206,000 for the restoration and preservation of the Ellicott City Colored School, to be matched by the Central Maryland Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

* Prohibit nude dancing at establishments in Howard that have no county liquor license but allow patrons to bring their own alcohol. The bill is aimed at Good Guys Bar & Grill on U.S. 1 in North Laurel, which turned in its liquor license and converted to a bring-your-own alcohol private club with nude dancing last year after the liquor board suspended its license.

The bill does not outlaw nude dancing as long as no alcohol is consumed on premises, however.

* Reduce the amount of time county residents must be available for jury duty, contingent upon a study to determine how Howard Circuit Court would implement a system in which a juror would serve for one day or one trial. Now, a juror must be available continually over a four-week period.

* Allow the county liquor board to grant a microbrewery license for an establishment that would brew and serve its own beer on premises. Since one business group approached the delegation with the idea before the session, at least three others have called expressing interest in such a venture, said Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13.

* Extend the county's building excise tax on construction, which could generate as much as $6 million annually for road construction projects, and the 5 percent hotel room tax, which produces about $1 million annually.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.