Officials dust off old ideas for bills

4 due for Assembly are returning versions of failed legislation

October 26, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Common political wisdom is not to expect startling proposals from legislators in the fourth year of a four-year term, and the list of Howard County's local offerings for the January General Assembly session fits that prognostication to a T.

County Executive James N. Robey said Howard's main goal, as in past years, is to recoup as much school construction money as possible. "That goes without saying," he said, especially with projections showing lowered revenues for next year.

"I ask for what I need - not for what's adventurous," Robey said.

Four of the 10 bills are returning versions of previous efforts that failed - to enlarge the school board and shorten members' terms, to allow the board to raise its own revenue through the property tax, and to prohibit the granting of alcoholic beverage licenses to owners of gas stations. Another would outlaw providing false information on housing subsidy applications.

Proposals to change the school board were rejected in several forms over the past several years, but Democratic Del. Elizabeth Bobo said her bill is based on the conclusions of last year's school board-appointed citizens group. "I was asked [to introduce the bill] by people involved in education issues," Bobo said. But she said she will withdraw the measure if there's "no groundswell" of support for it.

The school board has not taken a position on the idea this year, said school board President Jane B. Schuchardt, and Democratic Del. Frank S., Turner, who sponsored several bills over the past few years to change the elected board, said his issues were resolved by the last election. Turner was upset that no board members lived east of U.S. 29, and that the board had no minority members. But the victories of Virginia Charles, who lives east of U.S. 29, and Patricia Gordon, the board's only African-American member, resolved his concerns, he said.

The bill that would require the school board to raise its own revenue - taking that responsibility from general county government - has also failed before, but Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy has not given up on the idea.

"There were some people sorry that I withdrew it [last year]," he said. "I knew I didn't have the votes. I think there's some support out there."

Murphy said he also plans to re-introduce his bill to allow medical use of marijuana - another idea that has failed before.

And Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass is coming back with her bill to ban liquor licenses at gas stations - a measure that failed earlier in the term. "It's a good bill," she said. "I'm just giving it another shot." The county liquor board several years ago rejected the only recent liquor license application by a Columbia gas station owner. Those who opposed Pendergrass' bill argued that action showed a law is not needed.

Another bill sponsored by the Robey administration would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly submit falsified information on housing subsidy applications - an attempt to stop fraud by applicants. The same bill failed last year.

Four more bills slated for a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City are requests for state funding; the other two propose minor legal changes.

For example, the county wants $500,000 in matching state money to renovate the historic former Blandair home of Nancy Smith, where the county plans to build a park on the 300 acres in Columbia's midst. The other bond bills would seek $500,000 to help build a police and fire training facility; $400,000 to renovate space in the Circuit Court building for a new courtroom, new jury rooms and holding cells; and $2 million to help Traditional Acupuncture Institute expand to a campus on Johns Hopkins Road.

There are several explanations for the lack of new ideas, legislators said.

"This is the fourth year of a four-year term. Either your bill has passed or failed one, two or three times," said state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican who has announced he is leaving politics and will resign before the January session begins. It is typical to see an unexciting array of bills at this time, he said.

Other legislators said privately that incumbents do not often offer startling new ideas in an election year, when political sensitivities are heightened. The year after an election, when officials are starting new four-year terms, is the time to look for new proposals.

Still, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, legislators, like other people, are more concerned with chemical and biological attacks and world events than local legislation.

"The bottom line is all those good ideas we have, we can't justify if we can't be safe," said Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan.

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