Keeping hope alive on mobile home park bill

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

November 23, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

One sensitive bill that met a mysterious death in the last General Assembly session is not scheduled for a second appearance before the county's state legislators at their annual public hearing Tuesday. But the underlying issue has not gone away.

Mobile home park residents along the U.S. 1 corridor are hoping a church-based community organizing group can persuade Gov. Martin O'Malley to back a statewide bill to give them the first chance to buy the land their homes occupy if a park owner decides to sell for redevelopment. Residents typically own their homes, but rent their lots.

Before the sour economy slowed redevelopment, four mobile home parks in the U.S. 1 corridor in Howard closed, and many residents had no money to move their homes and no place to put them. The closures are eliminating hundreds of homes within reach of limited-income working families and senior citizens.

Leaders of the organizing group - People Acting Together in Howard or PATH - met with O'Malley in September, and Israel C. "Izzy" Patoka, executive director of the governor's office of community initiatives, visited the Deep Run Mobile Home Park in Elkridge last month. But no commitments have been made.

O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, said he has no experience with the issue.

"There are no mobile home parks in Baltimore," the governor said, adding that his legislative agenda is not set yet.

Patoka said his visit was a fact-finding effort.

"It's very helpful to hear directly from residents of the community," he said.

Hector R. Rodriquez, PATH's lead organizer, said he remains hopeful.

A bill that would have applied only to Howard County's mobile home parks was unanimously approved by the county's 11 state legislators during the last General Assembly session. The bill breezed through the House of Delegates, only to die in Baltimore County Sen. Kathy Klausmeier's rules committee. Klausmeier has not returned a reporter's calls seeking an explanation.

A threat to political signs?

A little-noticed provision of a bill that is on the agenda at the delegation's public hearing Tuesday is raising political hackles.

A seemingly simple measure that seeks to have state law conform to a county ban on soliciting money or selling things in public roadways also has a provision that bans advertising while in the right-of-way. The county law is not that explicit, though it does have a provision broadly prohibiting "any activity not related to transit."

But could that pose a threat to political signs?

No one, including the county Police Department, has interpreted the county law to prohibit political signs. Police spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Reidy-Hall said the law does not cover political sign-wavers, in the department's view.

However, Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman is worried that the proposed law could mean that might happen. "That's clearly designed to stop political speech," he said. "That's terrible. It goes to the core of our democracy."

Sign-waving is a frequent tactic for office-seekers of both major parties, but particularly for Republicans in recent elections. Squads waving McCain-Palin signs occupied the corner of Broken Land and Little Patuxent parkways - county roads - before the presidential election.

The problem, according to Democratic Del. Guy Guzzone, one of three co-sponsors, is that although soliciting money for charities and vending already are banned on county roads, people continue to collect money in traffic where county roads cross state highways - as at Dobbin Road and Route 175 in east Columbia. The new bill would extend the ban to state roads.

"It's the mirror to the county bill," Guzzone said, adding that people seeking money are the bill's main target.

Still, he said, it could affect political sign-waving, too, and he knows that could raise a constitutional question.

"I personally don't like the sign-waving," he said. "If it were to go away, it would make me happy."

His two co-sponsors are fellow District 13 Dels. Shane Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner, both Democrats.

Of course, passing a law is one thing. Making people obey it can be quite another. Guzzone said he has called the county dispatch center when he has seen people soliciting money on county roads. But he said he has not heard of much enforcement.

Flying the colors

Just back from a vacation trip to Argentina, Del. Elizabeth Bobo said she and her husband, Lloyd Knowles, attracted a lot of attention, but for an unusual reason.

Knowles wore an Obama campaign hat for most of the two-week trip, Bobo said, and the Argentines loved it.

"It was amazing, just amazing," the Democrat said.

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