7 local bills are reruns from last Assembly


Political notebook


Like an aging rock star's "Best of ..." album, the list of Howard County bills proposed for General Assembly approval in January - the last session of this four-year term - is peppered with the legislative version of oldies but goodies.

Seven of the 19 local bills scheduled for a hearing in Ellicott City Nov. 29 are repeats from last year.

The House delegation chairman, Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a Democrat, said her plan is first to consider three local bills approved by the delegation last year, but which failed for various reasons to get full General Assembly approval.

Next might come six requests for state bond funding for local projects, "since they're pretty uncontroversial," she said. Then could come repeat bills defeated last year, and finally new measures.

"I'm trying to determine how to efficiently work through the job we have to do and make it convenient for citizens," she said.

Asked if the fact that 2006 is an election year would make any difference, she said it would.

"Everybody's going to be grouchier," she said.

Republican Del. Gail H. Bates is sponsoring three rerun bills, including one designed to reduce local property taxes for senior citizens and another to slightly cut the county's income tax rate. Both failed last year. Bates is also bringing back her request for $500,000 in state bond money to help build a parking garage on Main Street in Ellicott City, though the garage is intended as the first project of a proposed county revenue authority. A bill to create the authority is slated for introduction in the County Council tomorrow night.

Other bills making a repeat appearance include a local ban on leghold animal traps sponsored by Democratic Del. Neil F. Quinter, a $15 increase in marriage license fees to pay for domestic abuse programs - both of which the delegation approved last winter - and a measure by Del. Frank S. Turner, another Democrat, to allow the school board to replace a superintendent up to four months before the end of a four-year term.

County Executive James N. Robey is bringing back another bill requesting $500,000 in state bond money to help renovate the Blandair mansion.

In addition, Robey is seeking $500,000 in state bond money for each of four other projects - expansion of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, a nature center off Cedar Lane near Route 32, to begin work on the Troy Regional Park in Elkridge and the North Laurel Community Center. Bates has an added bond issue request for $200,000 to help establish a Living Farm Heritage Museum on county-owned land in West Friendship.

A new bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Warren E. Miller, is aimed at helping to solve a contentious land-use issue - the state's insistence that the county further restrict development in the rural west to continue qualifying for state money for agricultural preservation.

The bill would make Howard County eligible for state money if the county government maintains development restrictions on rural land that were in effect Oct. 15. State officials are threatening to cut Howard's preservation money if new zoning restrictions on western county development are not adopted by May.

Bates' tax bills point up the differences in outlook between Republicans and Democrats, Bates said. One measure would reduce the local income tax rate from 3.2 percent to 3 percent. The other would give senior citizens who have lived in their homes for more than 20 years and have limited incomes a 30 percent to 50 percent reduction on their property taxes.

"You're looking at a substantial [$20.4 million] surplus this year," Bates said, recalling that the argument for raising income taxes in 2004 was a revenue shortage. "To me, the reason for that increase is gone."

Bates said that a County Council-approved law that would allow seniors to defer property tax increases does not go far enough.

"The problem with the seniors I've been hearing from is not only the [tax] increase, but the entire tax over the last 20 to 30 years," she said. Her bill would permanently cut taxes for older homeowners, she said.

Pendergrass said she personally felt the "property tax issue was dealt with by the County [Council]."

Herman Charity, legislative liaison for the Robey administration, said Bates' bills would cost the county too much in lost revenue. Some legislators last year felt these were primarily county government issues.

A new liquor proposal would allow multiple restaurant licenses to be granted to the same person or corporation, to ease the way for new restaurants coming to the county. Another liquor bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, would allow wineries to sell wine in Howard. Though Howard has no wineries, Kittleman said, his bill would remove a legal obstacle for one.

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