Debate over proposed changes to liquor laws dominated a public hearing last night as Howard County's State House delegation began preparations for the 1997 legislative session.
Six liquor-related bills would raise fees and fines, require servers to attend alcohol awareness classes and allow the County Council to relinquish its job as Howard's Liquor Board.
The hearing opened with County Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, a Republican, requesting freedom from Liquor Board duties, which he said consume too much of the council's time. An appointed board would take the council's place.
But Bill Boarman, in the liquor business for three decades, said the change could ruin a liquor-licensing system that he called "the best in this country."
"I've seen awful problems that an appointed board can cause," Boarman said. "Why fix it? It ain't broke."
Del. Shane Pendergrass, an East Columbia Democrat, former council member and sponsor of the bill, said the council was too busy to handle liquor cases in a timely way.
"The County Council is a part-time job," she said, "and they're very busy and they have so much responsibility that it's hard to focus on all of them."
The hearing, at the Howard Building in Ellicott City, was to allow public comment on 13 local bills -- meaning they affect Howard only -- being considered by the county's state legislators.
Majorities of the county's eight delegates and three senators must approve the bills before they are introduced in the General Assembly. The delegation may vote on the bills at its Dec. 4 public meeting.
The most frequent speaker last night was Dwight Clark, an Ellicott City attorney representing the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber unveiled a report on its legislative priorities at a meeting attended by nearly every elected official in the county yesterday morning.
The sprawling report touched on taxes, public safety, road construction, education funding, collective bargaining and a couple of dozen other issues.
Clark urged the delegation to free the council from its Liquor Board duties: "It's something that would be better handled by somebody else and give the County Council the time to deal with other matters."
Clark also spoke in favor of two economic development proposals, raised questions about another liquor bill and supported a proposal to fund domestic-abuse programs by fining people convicted of abuse $250.
There were few disputes last night, though Bill Waff, acting president of the Howard County Citizen's Association, criticized a bill that would allow property tax credits for businesses that lease properties -- a measure supported by the chamber.
Waff said the association "is becoming increasingly concerned about tax breaks being given to businesses, while at the same time increasing taxes to the average citizens. These take the form of trash fees, recreation fees, possible storm water management fees, et cetera."
Also last night, Nancy Wisthoff, a leader of youth groups and mother of three in Columbia, urged the delegation to support a bill to have the state and county develop a 100-acre camp in Pataspco State Park.
The camp would cost about $400,000 to be split between the state and county and would replace Camp Ilchester in Ellicott City, most of which the Girl Scouts have sold to a developer. The sponsor of the bill is Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Clarksville Republican.
"This legislation would provide an opportunity for a broad spectrum of our youth -- the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the boys and girls clubs, the various church groups," said Wisthoff. "It's a wonderful package that would give a very nice piece of land to the county."
Pub Date: 11/21/96