Local input for local legislation Commissioners' hearing good idea for early citizen comment.

November 27, 1996

LET'S JUST SAY it was a good idea, one that ought to be repeated annually despite the initial poor turnout. The Carroll County commissioners' public hearing this month on local bills for next year's General Assembly session drew but four speakers, most of whom sought only minor tinkering with county liquor laws.

One problem was lack of advance publicity -- and the fact that this was the first time the commissioners had held such a meeting. Another was that too many controversial issues were deemed politically impractical for legislative consideration.

Among those proposals were a 1 percent real estate transfer tax, and veto power for the commissioners over the Planning and Zoning Commission. Both ideas were turned down flat last year by the county's delegation to Annapolis, which refused to introduce the bills. The commissioners admitted it would be futile to try again in '97.

Similarly, county and state lawmakers explained that it would be unrealistic to seek greater local power on liquor licensing regulation. "There is a tradition of micro-managing local liquor laws in the General Assembly," was Sen. Timothy Ferguson's frank assessment.

Even though the county's four delegates and two senators freely acknowledge that the legislature routinely approves local bills as a courtesy, they know the 188 state legislators jealously guard their oversight of local liquor laws. Thus, one bill likely to consume some of the General Assembly's attention is a proposal to allow a micro-brewery/restaurant in Westminster, just as previous state law approved a similar establishment in Mount Airy.

The precedent of previous defeat has not dissuaded Mr. Ferguson, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, from reviving a bill to exempt small farm subdivisions from Carroll's adequate public facilities law. The bill passed last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The rift between the commissioners and delegation won't be narrowed by holding more pre-session hearings. But citizens can make their views known earlier, putting the delegation on notice and avoiding last-minute bills that lack public say. More countians should take advantage of the opportunity next time.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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