Business bills are session's highlight Blue law change will bring county big used-car dealer

April 09, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Howard County state legislators wrapped up their most productive legislative session in years last night -- one highlighted by a measure that will bring a used-car giant to North Laurel and several other pro-business bills.

"There have been more individual proposals, more individual pieces of legislation put forward than in any year since I've been here," Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican from the 14th District, said yesterday.

The General Assembly passed county bills that will raise the salary of Howard school board members, clarify the duties of sheriff's deputies, extend workers' compensation to volunteer fire department members and exempt the county Mental Health Authority from taxes.

But much of the local legislation was about business. The delegation's most important measure was a bill that will allow car dealers to operate on Sundays. Democratic and Republican members of the delegation joined forces to shepherd the measure through the General Assembly.

Passage of the bill clears the way for CarMax to open a used-car dealership at the site of the former Freestate Race Track in North Laurel -- promising about 300 new jobs. The Circuit City Stores subsidiary had indicated that it needed the change in Sunday blue laws before it could move to the county. Gov. Parris N. Glendening says he will sign the bill.

'A total team effort'

"If this bill hadn't passed, it would have sent a terrible message that Maryland is not willing to accommodate new business," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, a 13th District Republican. "It was a total team effort by all 11 members of the Howard delegation."

Some delegates said an unusual bipartisan spirit of cooperation prevailed among delegation members the entire session. Their key differences were worked out before the group went to Annapolis 91 days ago.

21 local bills proposed

The process started in the fall, when delegation members proposed 21 local bills. Among the proposals failing to make the cut were a measure that sought to prohibit the school board from implementing year-round schooling without the approval of voters in a countywide referendum and a bill to create a county liquor board separate from the County Council.

The delegation forwarded 12 of the 21 proposals to the General Assembly, said Donna K. Thewes, the delegation's secretary.

The legislature killed two of those bills. One would have banned cigarette vending machines in places frequented by minors, and the other would have imposed a $250 fine -- in addition to other penalties -- against anyone convicted of domestic violence.

Last night, the Senate passed a bill that would provide tax breaks to any company that adds 12 or more full-time employees to its work force.

The legislation, which was sought by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, was passed by the House over the weekend.

Gail H. Bates, an assistant to Mr. Ecker, said the administration was pleased with the session.

"I think as a whole we probably did fairly well," Ms. Bates said. "We're still waiting to see what's coming out in school construction, but all of the other bills we asked for have gone through."

Awaiting approval

In addition to the Sunday-sales and tax-break bills, here are the other local measures that passed the House and Senate and await approval by the governor:

Salaries of school board members would rise from $6,000 to $9,000. The annual salary of the school board chairman would rise from $6,800 to $10,000.

A change in the excise tax for road construction, enabling the county to more easily tap into its road improvement fund -- a key element of Mr. Ecker's proposed capital budget for the next fiscal year. Currently, the county has to spend $2 from its general fund for every dollar it takes from the road improvement fund, which is fed by excise taxes paid by developers. Under the approved legislation, the county would need to spend $1 for every $1 it takes from the fund.

The Economic Development Authority's board of directors would increase from nine members to 13. A quorum would consist of seven members, up from five.

Six of the seven members of the Howard Community College board of trustees would be required to live in Howard County.

The county Mental Health Authority would be classified as a local government agency, making it exempt from state and county taxes.

The county government would be allowed to establish an Economic Development Incentive Fund.

Volunteer firefighters would be covered under workers' compensation for all activities performed while participating in company activities, regardless of whether they were on duty.

The duties of sheriff's deputies are defined, requiring them to serve at the county-operated Circuit Court and not at the state-run District Court.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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