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Delegation hears legislative wish list for 2012 Annapolis session

Carroll County's Delegation to Annapolis was presented this week with a pre-holiday wish list of proposed legislation — some old, some new — to introduce during the 2012 General Assembly.

At a hearing on Dec. 13 at the County Office Building in Westminster, local officials and residents offered their input on bills that would specifically impact Carroll County.

The Annapolis session opens on Jan. 11, and legislators annually hear comments on bill proposals before deciding whether to support or oppose measures when the session gets under way.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association has proposed legislation to amend state laws to enable the county's 14 volunteer fire departments to hold card games and casino nights as fundraisers.

Neil Roop, an executive officer with the association, said the change would give Carroll's fire departments the same fundraising latitude that counterparts in many other Maryland counties already have.

"It's just getting tougher and tougher to fund the budgets of our 14 volunteer fire departments," Roop said, noting that a new fire engine costs as much as $1 million and a new ambulance upward of $250,000. "It just keeps getting tougher and tougher to make ends meet."

Del. Susan Krebs, a Republican from District 9B, who co-chairs the all-Republican delegation representing Carroll County, said she supported the bill — but is doubtful of its passage.

"This bill and all gaming bills have been held up by the General Assembly in recent years," she said, noting that they are usually, "embroiled in state-wide politics. .... (But) we're going to keep trying."

At the meeting, which was also attended by all five county commissioners, several hunting safety instructors and members of the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association asked that the county's required setback — or safety zone — distance residences or other occupied buildings for bow-hunters and other archers be shortened from 150 yards to 50 yards.

The current 150-yard setback applies to both archery and firearms.

Advocates framed the proposal as a way to give wider latitude to bow-hunters during deer season, and to provide a practical and cost-effective way of addressing the over-population of deer — which they said results in traffic accidents and crop and landscaping damage.

Those in favor of the measure note that Howard County has had a 50-yard setback in place for two years, and Montgomery County has a 75-yard setback for some time. They said the enforcement division of the Maryland Department of National Resources has no reported accidents or safety complaints as a result.

The proposed reduction would not change the existing 150-yard setback requirement for firearms hunting or target shooting.

Election changes proposed

Griffith Manahan, vice president of the county's Board of Elections, presented proposals for three changes to the county's election procedures.

One of the proposals is to create a second early voting location, at the South Carroll Senior Center, in Eldersburg. During the last election cycle, the county had one early voting center, in Westminster.

Manahan also requested that the board be changed from its current configuration of three permanent members and two substitute members to five permanent members. He said all five members currently have the same duties and responsibilities — and therefore should be granted equal status.

State Sen. Joseph Getty, who represents the 5th District and co-chairs the delegation, said there is "no statewide standard" for the composition of county elections boards. He said 10 Maryland counties have already moved to a five-permanent-member configuration.

"Some of these changes have been done in a partisan manner," he noted.

The election board also wants to reduce the 100-foot setback requirement for electioneering at polling places on election days, saying it's unnecessarily large.

Manahan said at about half the county's polling places, "100 feet puts you in a street of some kind."

Cool reception for district change

Joseph Burns Jr., chairman of the Carroll County Redistricting Committee, formally presented his committee's recommendation for changing the county's five existing districts for the Board of County Commissioners. The committee, which met over the past several months, was charged with making adjustments to the districts based on data from the 2010 Census.

But the degree of those adjustments split the seven-member committee. On a 4-3 vote, the panel supported Map 3 — which proposes a significant re-alignment of four of the five current districts.

Burns told the delegation that, as chairman of the redistricting committee, he cast one of the dissenting votes — and instead supported Map 1, which preserves the present districts as they stand.

Getty expressed reservations about the wisdom of changing the existing districts now, particularly since there have been no significant population shifts or other changes to require such changes.

About a half-dozen residents, including commissioners Haven Shoemaker and Richard Rothschild, spoke against adopting Map 3 or changing the existing districts.

By most indications, the committee's recommendation for Map 3 was already dead on arrival, because the delegation had rejected a similar map when the commissioner districts were first created in 2008.

No comments were offered in support of Map 3, and none of the four redistricting committee members who voted for that map attended the meeting.

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