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Crunch time comes for Harford legislation in Annapolis

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It's less than seven days and counting until the 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly ends at midnight Monday, and the fates of a number of Harford County-centered bills remain to be decided in those waning days.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a number local bills were close to final passage, but others faced a more uncertain outcome.

A few others are dead or are about to be.

Already approved by the Senate is SB-475, which raises the base salary of the next Harford County state's attorney from $98,500, annually to $125,000 from 2014 to 2016 and then to $130,000 in 2017. The state's attorney also will continue to receive an annual increase based on the consumer price index, which is not to exceed 3 percent in any given year.

The bill is awaiting final action in the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee.

Another local bill nearing passage is HB-1170, which relaxes existing requirements that a holder of a liquor license be a Harford County resident. The legislation would require the responsible license holder owning 25 percent of the business reside within a 100 miles of the Town of Bel Air.

HB-1170 has passed the House and is awaiting action of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Education measures

Also getting close to final passage are two local education-related bills, HB-1060 and HB-838.

The first establishes a Northeast Maryland Additive Manufacturing Authority to foster the transfer of additive, or 3-D, printing and related technologies between federal agencies such as those operating at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and colleges, schools and businesses in Harford and Cecil counties.

The second bill establishes a task force to study vocational technological education needs in Harford County with an eye toward expanding such programs or building new facilities to meet student demands in Harford's public school system.

HB-1060 passed the House of Delegates and is on the Senate floor following a favorable committee report. HB-838 passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Dual-county interest

Another bill of local interest on both sides of the Susquehanna River is HB-1107 which requires the Maryland Transportation Authority to conduct a study of its plan to implement all-electronic tolling collection at the Hatem Bridge and other toll facilities.

The bill, which has passed the House and is awaiting action by the Senate Finance Committee, also places a two-year moratorium on the elimination of cash tolls at the bridge which links Harford and Cecil counties via Route 40.

Legislators from both sides of the river worked on the legislation in both houses, and its likely passage is considered a coup de grace, because the elimination of cash toll collections at the Hatem appeared to be a done deal at the start of the session.

Bond bills

There are a number of local bond bills which are expected to go down to the wire, including HB-1219 to provide $500,000 for renovations at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton; HB-644 to provide $200,000 for renovation of Historical Society of Harford County headquarters in Bel Air; HB-648 to provide $250,000 for restoration of the Havre de Grace Opera House; and HB-649 to provide $75,000 for renovations at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum.

Another local bond bill, one that came in late in the session, is HB-1439, which provides a $50,000 state grant to complete the Edgewood Community Support Center.

Local bond bills are typically at the mercy of the key budget committees in both houses, and Harford's remain in those committees pending the final action that usually comes very near to the end of the session, when a lot of horse trading takes place in both chambers.

Not moving

Legislation sponsored by Southern Harford Del. Glenn Glass, HB-1189, to put restrictions on body searches of minors by law enforcement officers was killed by the House Judiciary Committee.

Legislation to restructure the Harford County Republican State Central Committee, HB-1513, remains mired in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and even its key backers, Western Harford Dels. Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough concede its chances of leaving the panel are slim.

The bill would give Harford's elected legislators ex-officio seats on the central committee for the purpose of voting to fill a vacancy on the panel. The legislation has been characterized as a battle for control of the committee between Tea Party affiliated Campaign for Liberty advocates and the local GOP establishment.

Stuck in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is SB-214, sponsored by Western Harford Sen. J.B. Jennings, which would require a portion of fines collected for texting while driving offenses to be appropriated to the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

Nowhere this year

McDonough tried to push through legislation to repeal the state's mandate on urban counties like Harford to spend massive amounts on stormwater remediation, which has given rise to local tax levies known by the pejorative "rain tax."

As expected, the gambit went nowhere in the session, but McDonough issued a statement late Monday night vowing to fight on.

"The environmental extremists who control the Legislature have dug in their heels and fought hard to defeat our initiative," read the statement. "There is good news. The State government has ruled that local government can reduce or eliminate the Rain Tax by transferring the obligation to prevent stormwater runoff by using funds from the regular budget."

The ruling by the Maryland Department of Planning was in response to a claim by the Carroll County commissioners that they were already funding stormwater improvement projects in the county budget without need of a special tax.

"This decision means we now begin phase two of our Stop The Rain Tax campaign," McDonough said. "The goal of this phase is to convince Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamanetz to reduce or eliminate the rain tax by using general funds in the budget."

McDonough did not mention trying to do the same in Harford County, where County Executive David Craig has supported getting rid of the tax, but an effort at local repeal was scotched by the County Council.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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