District map still awaiting review

House subcommittee has not voted on bill

county commissioners race cannot yet begin

General Assembly

March 19, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

The emergency bill that would divide Carroll County into five commissioner districts is languishing in a House of Delegates subcommittee despite what officials call a barrage of letters, e-mails and calls and a push from the county delegation.

Local bills that have the support of the home delegation traditionally win approval as a legislative courtesy.

"It would be highly unusual for a delegation bill not to get through," said Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll. "But, then, this whole thing has been unusual."

House bills are set to cross over to the Senate on March 27, and the subcommittee on Local Government and Bi-County Agencies has yet to review several local bills, including Carroll's, said its chairman, Del. William A. Bronrott. The bill is a map delineating the districts for the board, which expands this year from three members, elected at large, to five members, elected by district.

"This is supposed to be an emergency bill, but the committee is not paying attention to the emergency part," said Del. Tanya Thornton Shewell. "If we don't vote by March 27, there will be no bill to cross over."

While the Carroll delegation supports one map, some local leaders and residents favor another. The House Environmental Matters Committee heard testimony on both options last month and referred the issue to the subcommittee.

The delegation had hoped to win quick approval of the map. The governor typically signs emergency bills into law within 10 days of approval.

"It can't die in committee," said Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, delegation vice chairwoman. "It's a local bill, and the committee has not voted on any local bill yet. I am confident the committee will vote for a map option. They have to."

Until the map is enacted, prospective candidates cannot file, raise funds or campaign - and the July 3 filing deadline for the September primary is looming.

"I have reminded the committee that this is an emergency piece of legislation," said Del. Donald B. Elliott. "What we are doing now is effectively shortening the campaign. Legislators should have more respect for that aspect of the issue and act more expeditiously."

The bill must win House approval and then go to the Senate, where Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the county delegation, said he expects no opposition. He may be mistaken. The group that protested the delegation's map choice during the House hearing plans to return to Annapolis if the bill reaches the Senate.

"We absolutely will organize another caravan and protest," said Michelle Jefferson, who organized a petition drive against Option One, the delegation's choice.

An official map is integral to the election of five commissioners by district this year. The hearing process and ensuing debate have delayed approval.

"The people who came to Annapolis to testify against the map may have messed up the system favored by county voters," Shewell said.

The House Environmental Matters Committee must decide between the two map options this week. The delegation is lobbying for Option One, which separates Hampstead and Manchester into two districts and creates one district in South Carroll and another in Finksburg. Both map options make one district of Westminster.

A contingent of county residents and officials, including four mayors and all three commissioners, lobbied for an alternative map known as Option Two, which was recommended by the redistricting committee. Option Two keeps North Carroll in one district, but splits Finksburg along Route 140 and South Carroll along Route 32, creating two districts in the county's most populous area.

"I know there is a lot of discussion on both sides of this bill," Bronrott said. "It certainly is one of the more controversial bills of the year, but it is going to get fair consideration."

The 2004 referendum that stipulated five commissioners elected by district also required the commissioners to appoint a bipartisan redistricting committee to draw a map.

Although it appears unlikely, the legislative session might conclude next month without a map for Carroll County. Failure to redistrict might force the court to create a map, a time-consuming process that could further stall the campaign. Or, according to an analysis by the attorney general's office, an at-large election could be scheduled. Voters would chose five new commissioners who would each serve a four-year term.

"Hopefully, by [2010], the county would have a map," said Kathryn Rowe, the Maryland assistant attorney general who drafted the advisory on the map.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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