Harford delegation hopes to get answers on HCC-Towson building funds

Getting funding for Harford Community College's Towson University building is one of the top priorities for Harford County's delegates and senators when they head back for the 2012 Maryland General Assembly session, which begins Wednesday.

Harford's delegation is working "very hard" on resolving issues that have prevented construction of the project, Del. Rick Impallaria, a Republican representing western Harford, said.

"Everything is done except for a signature to release the money," he noted.

Impallaria, who was the Harford delegation chair in 2011, said they will speak with Gov. Martin O'Malley and his office "and see what it's going to take to get this funding released so we can move forward."

The building is a partnership between the college and Towson University and would allow students to earn bachelor's degrees from the university on HCC's campus. Plans for the expansion were announced in early 2009.

"There's no technical reason why this isn't moving forward," Impallaria continued, saying that the delegation wants an answer why funding from the state hasn't been provided.

Sen. Barry Glassman, who represents northern Harford, said he funding isn't the lone issue holding up the Towson project.

"What I found over the years," Glassman said, "is that the various colleges and universities [in the state] are territorial" and grow concerned of what impact a new institution of higher learning can have on their programs.

"I think that's probably why they [the Maryland Higher Education Commission] are taking a close look at this," he added.

The first hurdle Harford will need to overcome in moving forward with the Towson building is to gain approval from MHEC, he continued, which could come any day. Glassman said he recently spoke with MHEC's interim secretary, Danette Gerald Howard, who told the senator that they should receive a response "around the first of the year."

The Towson building, planned for HCC's new west campus, is just one step in creating more opportunities for higher education in Harford and Cecil counties, Glassman said, one that would help address the needs of those who moved to the area as part of base realignment, or BRAC, at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Protecting Harford

The first thing Harford's representatives in the legislature will do when the get to the State House next week, however, is look at bills that could possibly "be damaging to Harford County," Impallaria said.

"You never know exactly what's going to happen with that until you get there," he noted.

Examples of legislation that could potential be "damaging" to the county, Impallaria said, are raising the gasoline tax — "there are lots of commuters in the county" — and bills that would affect farmers. These issues, he added, have to be looked at "on an individual basis."

Glassman shares those thoughts.

"Our main goal is to protect Harford County when it comes to PlanMaryland and the state's attempt to take our local planning authority away."

PlanMaryland is the state's plan for sustainable growth and development in the future. Instead of the counties mandating regulations for their particular area, it would be up to the state to tell them how they can develop.

Impallaria also noted that each delegate has different issues they will be "pushing for," and bills that directly affect the county he and the other delegates "will take an even stronger look at it."

Prefiled bills

Two bills have already been pre-filed for the legislative session, according to the general assembly's website, mlis.state.md.us — one from southern Harford Sen. Nancy Jacobs and another from Jacobs and Glassman.

Sponsored by both Jacobs and Glassman, one bill wants to amend Harford's property tax credit for residences near "specified refuse disposal systems." The change, Glassman explained, would be in specifying the area that would actually qualify for the tax credit.

The other bill Jacobs pre-filed will broaden the definition of "historic motor vehicle" in Maryland law to include truck tractors.

Child molestation reporting

An issue Impallaria intends to introduce is one that many states are taking a serious look at — the failure to report child molestation.

Inspired by the Penn State scandal involving the university's former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly abusing children, Impallaria says the legislation would make it illegal for someone with information to fail to report child abuse.

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired from the university in November after the controversy broke for not telling authorities about the alleged abuse after receiving information.

"We want to make it clear to people that it's an issue," Impallaria said. The bill, Impallaria continued, is in the draft stage.

Towing controversy

Not surprisingly, another issue Impallaria won't let go of just yet is eliminating storage fees imposed by towing companies.

In December, the delegate's lawsuit against Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane over his refusal to get involved in a dispute between Impallaria and a local towing company was dismissed. Impallaria had wanted the court to have Bane charge towing companies that hold personal property until a person's bill is paid.

Impallaria said he was contacted by a "consumer advocates group that works through the state's attorney office," saying they, too, want to add legislation that would "protect people" from storage fees.

Farm protections, road improvements

A significant bill that Glassman is working on, he said, would mandate that O'Malley not propose any new restrictions on Maryland farmers, such as when and where they can spread animal manure, at least until surrounding states that empty into the Chesapeake Bay reach similar percentages of nitrogen reduction.

Another bill Glassman has in the works would go toward road improvements in Harford and Cecil counties that are directly affected by the recent toll increase on Route 40 at the Hatem Bridge and I-95.

He said that, typically, when there's a hike at the tolls, truck traffic increases on nearby roads to avoid paying the toll. This bill, Glassman went on, would require the Maryland Transportation Authority to provide funding to the counties for this impact that would go toward improving these roads.

The roads, such as Routes 1, 161 and 136, that Glassman may include in the bill, all go through the Darlington, Dublin and Whiteford areas.

Hotel tax DOA?

As far as legislation that has been brought up in the previous year, both Glassman and Impallaria aren't aware of anyone bringing back the proposed the hotel and motel tax, widely known as a room tax, at least for the time being.

Impallaria said "a lot" of people support the 5 percent tax on hotel rentals, but it's crucial to understand the revenue impact.

"Not much you can do until you know how much [money] it would bring in," he said.

Glassman, however, said the tax "hasn't garnered too much support in Annapolis" as the session draws near, especially with all the talk about increasing the gasoline tax.

The chairs of Harford's House and Senate delegations have not been chosen yet, Glassman said, but should meet on the matter "within the first day or two" of the session. Impallaria was chair during the 2011 session.

Glassman, who has served as the senate's chair for the last four years, expects to again hold that position among himself, Jacobs and western Harford Sen. J.B. Jennings.

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