City/county Digest

CITY/COUNTY DIGEST

May 16, 2006

Howard council hears more on measure to ban smoking

The Howard County Council heard testimony last night on a bill that would impose a smoking ban on bars and restaurants by June 2007 - the fourth smoking-ban measure and the third public hearing on the issue since November.

This episode could be the final chapter in the fractious political wrestling match, however, because the three council Democrats are thought likely to approve the bill June 5.

The council previously tabled two smoking-ban bills, while a Republican-led majority approved one bill on a 3-2 vote. That measure was vetoed by County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat who said the bill's four-year delay in enforcing the ban on existing places that allow smoking was too long.

Robey co-sponsored the original bill with Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, and the two are co-sponsoring the current bill. The first bill would have taken full effect in January 2008, seven months later than the current one.

Joe Barbera, president of the Restaurant Association of Howard County, said in testimony last night that "a one-year phase-in period is almost punitive." He said it will hurt operators who spent heavily to comply with Howard's current law, which allows physically separate smoking areas if they have separate ventilation systems.

Mark Breaux, president of the Smoke Free Howard County Tobacco coalition, urged an even shorter enforcement phase-in of six months or less. "The time is now," he said.

Larry Carson

Carroll County: Court of Appeals

Commissioner-vote challenge expedited

A challenge to an agreement that outlined districts for Carroll County's commissioner election has been expedited to the state's highest court, a court clerk said yesterday. Arguments are scheduled to begin June 1 at the Court of Appeals on challenges filed last month by two county residents seeking to overturn a settlement in a Carroll County Circuit Court case that established districts based on the recommendations of a committee created by a 2004 referendum. It had been unclear whether the case would be heard by the Court of Special Appeals or the Court of Appeals.

Laura McCandlish

Baltimore: Pension board

Bill seeks to limit overseas travel

Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. introduced a bill last night that seeks to limit overseas travel for members of the city's pension board. The seven-member board, which oversees a retirement fund with more than 19,000 active and retired members, has come under fire from officials for approving $58,000 in educational trips last year to such locations as Paris and Monaco. The legislation, Harris said, would freeze travel expenses until stronger guidelines could be put in place.

Doug Donovan

Southeast

Possible site dropped as day-laborer center

Responding to community protests, organizers with the immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland have abandoned a Southeast Baltimore location for a day-laborer center. Organizers are considering about two dozen others sites for the center, which would represent a partnership with the city to allow illegal immigrants and others to find work. Neighborhood residents and parents at City Springs Elementary School - across from the proposed location at 1311 E. Lombard St. - objected to the plan, and CASA officials backed off and agreed to start from scratch.

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