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Request to redefine Columbia Association under state law withdrawn

The Columbia Association Wednesday withdrew its request to the Howard County delegation to sponsor legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session that would change how CA is defined under state law.

CA officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the reason for withdrawing the proposal. State Del. Guy Guzzone, who as delegation co-chairman had drafted the bill, said all he was told by CA is they wanted to do "further work" on the proposal and therefore did not want the delegation to proceed with it.

"Our moving it forward depended on the board requesting us to do that," Guzzone said, explaining that the delegation will not now be considering the bill.

The CA board was scheduled to discuss and vote on the proposal at its meeting Thursday, Nov. 10, but the item has been removed from the board's agenda.

The proposal was aimed at saving CA money on lobbying fees, officials said. Because CA is considered a homeowners association, it has had to pay lobbying fees for officials to go to Annapolis and request to be exempt whenever legislation to amend the Homeowners Association Act is proposed.

But the proposal had aroused suspicions among some in Columbia, who said it would do more harm than good.

In a letter to the Columbia Flier, former CA Board member Russ Swatek argued that the legislation "weakens many mandates of the current state HOA law on CA including the extent to which residents have access to CA documentation."

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Columbia Democrat Del. Liz Bobo, who serves on the committee that deals with changes to the HOA Act, said Tuesday she was worried enough about the bill's impact that she refused CA's request to introduce it.

"My concern is that it takes CA out of some of the sections of the law and leaves it up to the board instead," Bobo said.

Bobo also had concerns the bill might weaken part of the law that deals with making records and documents available to the public.

Other bills proposed

Though the CA bill is not being filed, the Howard County Delegation will be considering nine other local bills for submission in the 2012 legislative session, which begins in January.

A public hearing on the bills will be held Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. The 11-member delegation will vote on the bills at a later date. Any that do not receive majority support will not move forward to the General Assembly.

Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat, Sen. Jim Robey, an Elkridge Democrat, and Woodbine Republican Del. Warren Miller are sponsoring a bill to change the state law regulating liquor licenses for golf courses in the county. The law says that licensed venues can only serve alcohol from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Some Howard venues say this has been problematic for booking special events that start before 11 a.m., especially when competing with venues in jurisdictions where alcohol can be served earlier. The bill would change the law to allow liquor to be served from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

"It conforms with the other similar licenses," Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat, said.

The other bills the delegation will be considering for the 2012 legislative session include:

• a bill, submitted on behalf of the county administration, to allow the county's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits to use the Criminal Justice Information System Central Repository to obtain national criminal history records for applicants seeking a massage establishment license or taxicab license.

"We wanted to be able to have fully comprehensive background checks," County Executive Ken Ulman said, noting the county has only been able to access state criminal records for massage and taxicab license applicants. The legislation was not spurred by any specific incident, he said.

• a proposal from Miller, a Woodbine Republican, and Del. James Malone, an Arbutus Democrat, to authorize nonprofit veterans groups and volunteer fire departments to hold casino nights as fundraisers. The delegation approved this proposal for the 2011 session, but it never made it out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

• a bill, submitted by West Friendship Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, to authorize the Howard County Board of Education to waive the requirement that employers participating in unpaid student work-based learning programs reimburse the county for workers' compensation insurance coverage.

• four requests from the Ulman administration for a total of $930,000 in state bond funding, including: $500,000 for construction of the new Roger Carter Recreation Center in Ellicott City; $150,000 for renovations of historic Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage; $150,000 for rehabilitation of South Branch Park in Sykesville; and, $130,000 for rehabilitation of an assisted living facility for disabled people in Columbia.

Ulman said members of the delegation sat down with his staff to discuss which projects to request funding for and chose ones that "are important to the county and feasible to accomplish (in one) year. "We also try to spread them across the county as best we can," he added.

• a request submitted by Guzzone on behalf of the Greenleaf community in Columbia for $30,000 in state bond funding to fund outdoor improvements.

"They are at the moment a struggling homeowners association," Guzzone said.

The request is likely to raise concerns, Guzzone explained, as some legislators would argue that homeowners associations should be charging their residents fees high enough to pay for any improvements they need to make.

"There have been a couple of bond bills that have come through (the General Assembly for homeowners associations), mostly for Montgomery, but it's not typical," he said. "The question is, is this a good idea to do this and will it be a good idea to do it in the future and do we need some sort of framework or policy to deal with these kinds of requests?"

This report has been updated.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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