House OKs pollution, safety bills

Preliminary step on bay phosphorus, baby bottles

General Assembly 2009

March 29, 2009|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Saturday to measures aimed at removing phosphorus from the Chesapeake Bay, mercury from old cars and toxins from baby bottles.

Over nearly four hours of debate on scores of bills, lawmakers also gave final approval to a measure requiring police agencies to improve record-keeping on SWAT teams in light of a Berwyn Heights police raid last summer in which the town mayor's dogs were killed. A similar bill has already passed the state Senate.

The weekend session was necessary because legislative rules dictate that bills must clear at least one General Assembly chamber by Monday in order to be guaranteed a hearing in the other before the 90-day session ends next month.

While the SWAT bill passed overwhelmingly and without discussion, contentious measures on early voting and suburban sprawl prevention faced Republican objections and extended debate.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, the minority whip from Washington County, urged lawmakers to reject a bill setting procedures for voting before Election Day because the measure would tap a fund specified for campaign financing. "The fatal flaw in this bill is the funding source," said Shank.

The bill - which was authorized by a strong majority of voters in a constitutional amendment last year - was approved by a 100-to-36 vote.

Lawmakers also gave preliminary approval to a bill that would give the state more authority to curb development in suburban areas. Under the proposed law, counties must show "incremental progress" on encouraging new residential development primarily in "priority" areas or face denials of development permits by the state.

Delegates rejected an amendment by Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, a Western Maryland Republican, to remove economically distressed counties from the proposed law's purview. The bill still requires final approval from the House and Senate.

The House gave preliminary approval to a bill prohibiting the sale of baby bottles and cups made with bisphenol A, a component of some plastics linked to a range of health problems when exposed to infants.

A more expansive measure failed to pass the Senate in 2008, but the bill's sponsor, Del. James W. Hubbard, said he was optimistic that his more narrowly drawn measure will reach Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk this year.

Meanwhile, the effort to ban trans fat in restaurant cooking statewide appears dead again this year. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat, introduced the bill following similar bans in localities such as Baltimore City, but it failed to get out of committee.

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

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