Machetes bill doesn't cut the mustard


February 04, 2007|By Larry Carson

Allowing Howard County police the express legal authority to stop someone carrying a machete may seem like a common sense idea, but sometimes what seems like a natural concept can be complicated, elected officials have discovered.

A bill to add machetes to a list of prohibited weapons in Howard County was withdrawn after a number of county legislators raised questions about it at last week's delegation meeting.

"Really, this was to give another tool to our law enforcement officers," said County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, who had asked Shane E. Pendergrass, the delegation chairman, to submit the bill in the General Assembly. "Since it's not a major issue right now, this is a chance to take another look at it."

The original proposal would have made carrying a machete illegal from one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise to exempt people who might use the wide-bladed long knives for their intended purpose, clearing brush. County police supported the bill.

Del. Guy Guzzone introduced an amendment Wednesday that would have eliminated the time reference, making the carrying of the device illegal if it involves "the intent or purpose of injuring an individual in an unlawful manner."

"It gives a judge discretion to determine intent," Guzzone told his colleagues.

"How do you determine intent?" asked state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.

Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., a retired Baltimore County police officer, said he would stop anyone he saw with a machete anyway. "It would certainly raise my suspicion," he said.

State Sen. James N. Robey, a former county police chief, said that during his 32-year career he handled lots of assault cases involving criminal intent that centered on the use of tire irons, baseball bats and chains, but no machetes.

"That was a long time ago," he mused. DeBoy joked that "the tools have evolved."

Another question bothered Del. Elizabeth Bobo. Does the lack of a specific mention of machetes in state law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons cause a problem?

"Even if we found someone with a machete and intent to harm, we couldn't prosecute them," she said.

State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer asked why machetes should be illegal just in Howard County, and Bobo picked up on that concern, too.

"Are we implying that in other counties in the state that machetes aren't covered?" Bobo said.

In response, Del. Frank S. Turner asked whether the local proposal should be expanded to a statewide bill.

Del. Warren E. Miller suggested that if machetes become illegal, criminals would merely switch to another weapon.

In the end, there were just too many questions on a seemingly simple bill that attempted to regulate something that has not been a major problem in the county, Ball said.

This week's meeting of Howard County's delegates and senators should produce votes on at least three other measures on which the group postponed action last week. These include bills to strengthen the county's ability to enforce zoning laws, extend workmen's compensation medical benefits to volunteer auxiliary police officers and authorize the school board to negotiate with the teachers union.

Federal funding

What would happen to Howard County if hundreds of new government defense and military jobs come to Central Maryland under the federal Base Realignment and Closure program, but not enough federal money comes with them to improve roads, schools and provide needed services for the new residents?

How to get that money was one of the chief topics U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski came to discuss with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman last week, and Ulman was ready with a list of requests.

Ulman made the point that the county needs federal help for improvements regardless of the base relocation situation.

In a letter sent to Mikulski before her visit, Ulman listed specifics such as widening Route 175 east of Interstate 95 in Howard (as Anne Arundel County widens its portion of that road to Fort Meade); widening Interstate 70 from U.S. 29 to the intersection with U.S. 40 and improving several busy intersections.

In addition to highway improvements, Ulman talked about Howard's need for a range of things from $18 million to hire 150 more police officers over the next 7 1/2 years to $320,000 to allow 40 children on a waiting list into the Head Start program.

Last but not least is the $12.5 million that Howard Community College needs for new buildings and physical improvements.

"BRAC magnifies those issues," Mikulski said, explaining that Maryland's congressional delegation -- well represented on congressional budget and transportation committees -- is working on the issue.

"This is a wonderful opportunity that's coming," Mikulski said.

Green parachutes

As the County Council considers a $400,000 budget transfer request to cover cash payouts for unused vacation time and severance for six top appointees who left county employ after County Executive Ken Ulman took office, here are the details of three earlier payouts.

Former Police Chief Wayne Livesay received $77,251 when he left office June 30, according to county finance records.

Livesay, who retired to run for County Council after a 34-year career, including eight years as Howard's longest-serving police chief, said the money was all for unused leave time.

"Remember, I was a 34-year employee," he said.

Livesay is keeping a flexible schedule these days, he said, working as an adjunct professor in criminal justice at Howard and Carroll community colleges and at the Community College of Baltimore County, he said.

"It gives me the flexibility I wanted right now," he said.

Dorothy Layman, the county's former director of employment and training, received $11,763 when she left last March.

Earlier, when Raymond S. Wacks, the longtime county budget director, retired to take the same job in Baltimore, he got a $43,012 payout for unused vacation time.

"I earned it," he said.

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