One important piece of Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative agenda took a small step forward Friday as a Senate panel appproved legislation that seeks to control the spread of housing developments on septic systems.

The Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted 7-4 for the environmental legislation over the resistance of rural lawmakers. The bill  goes to the Senate floor next week.

O'Malley contends the legislation is necessary to rein in an important source of pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. Republicans, and some  Democrats, contend the bill will depress the value of land in rural areas.

Joseph C. Bryce, the governor's chief legislative officer, said the administration is pleased with the form in which the bill emerged from committee. "Fundamentally, the concept is still the same," he said.

Bryce said companion legislation is still being considered in a House committee. He said he expects that panel will work off the Senate version of the bill.