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News Maryland Howard County Ellicott City

In final vote before recess, Howard council tables food and drink debate

In the final legislative session before its traditional August recess, the Howard County Council voted Friday afternoon to put on hold a bill related to the county's controversial food and drink limitations, while approving a management plan for the Patapsco Valley that had also stirred debate. 

The council decided unanimously to delay a vote on the food and drink issue, which had raised the ire of some citizens and vendors at county events who were upset about a rule banning sugary drinks and limiting the percentage of high-calorie packaged snacks served in county vending machines and at county-sponsored events. In response, Council member Greg Fox, a Republican from Fulton, introduced a bill that would remove any restrictions -- other than those required by law -- on food and drink served at county events and in county facilities. 

But at a council hearing on Monday, public health officials and members of the community group People Acting Together in Howard testified in support of the calorie restrictions, which they said would benefit the community at large and children in particular. 

That same day, County Executive Ken Ulman announced that he was lifting food and drink restrictions for Howard-sponsored events held on property not owned by the county, such as the Fourth of July celebration at the Columbia Lakefront and the Wine in the Woods festival in the Inner Arbor. 

Council members said they were holding off on a decision to see what further steps Ulman's administration would take. The county executive has formed a committee to make decisions on how to implement the food and drink policy going forward. 

Council member Courtney Watson, a Democrat from Ellicott City who is also running for county executive, said that with a new administration coming in "we can wait to address this issue." 

The council didn't wait to vote on a management plan for the Patapsco Valley heritage area, which needed county support before heading to the state for approval. Though the Sierra Club, an environmental group, had expressed concern that the plan would give members of a local nonprofit undue influence in decision-making for the Patapsco Valley State Park, which is included in the heritage area's boundaries, council members said they had been assured jurisdiction over the park would remain squarely in the hands of the state's Department of Natural Resources. 

Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat from west Columbia, said she had gotten word from the state attorney general's office that "no plan would supersede what DNR and the park service have the authority to do in a state park.

"We did our due diligence," she said. 

Sigaty and Council member Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who represents the southeast county, both introduced amendments to the Patapsco bill to clarify that the management plan's ideas are suggestions, not requirements. 

A bill tabled three years ago also resurfaced Friday afternoon. 

The legislation, which would have banned the taking of land by eminent domain for the purpose of economic development, was a charter amendment that would have had to have been approved before August in order to make it onto November's ballot. 

Another bill restricting eminent domain, introduced by Fox this summer, also failed to garner enough votes. 

Check back later for more information. 

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