A bill authorizing Howard County veterans organizations and volunteer fire departments to hold casino nights as fundraisers will get a second shot in the General Assembly this year, after the Howard County delegation signed off on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 8.
The delegation also voted to send three new local bills to the General Assembly for approval: a bill that would allow certain restaurants to sell beer in growlers, refillable containers retailers use to bottle draft beer for people to take home; a bill allowing Howard County sheriff's deputies to enter into a collective bargaining agreement; and, a bill authorizing the county to conduct federal background checks on massage parlors, taxicab operators and pawn shops before issuing them licenses.
The growler sales bill and the collective bargaining bill were approved in a straw vote, as they were late requests and the delegation is not holding a public hearing on them until Feb. 21. The bills will be filed in the General Assembly because Friday, Feb. 10 is the deadline for local bills, but the delegation could withdraw them if lawmakers change their mind after the public hearing.
A $30,000 bond bill for the Greenleaf Community Association, in Columbia, to use for sidewalk repairs did not have the same luck as the other local bills. Though all votes are not in and delegation members can change their votes before the Feb. 10 filing deadline, the bond bill does not appear to have enough support from the delegation members.
Del. Guy Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat who serves as co-chairman of the delegation, said he knew the bill would be controversial because Howard County has never put in a bond bill for a community association, other than the bond bill that was passed in 2010 for Symphony Woods, which is owned by the Columbia Association.
"I agreed to put (the Greenleaf bond bill) in because we really don't have a policy at this point, and we have other counties around this state that have done these type of bond bills," he said.
The Greenleaf bond bill needed approval from at least five delegation members from the House — which it got from Dels. Guzzone, Frank Turner, Shane Pendergrass, Steven DeBoy and James Malone — and at least two from the Senate.
Sen. Allan Kittleman, a West Friendship Republican voted against the bill (along with Dels. Gail Bates, Warren Miller and Liz Bobo). He was the only one of Howard County's three senators present for the vote.
"Maybe perhaps it would be better to vote on this after we've developed a policy, not before," Kittleman said.
Sen. Ed Kasemeyer and Jim Robey were called out of the meeting before votes on the local bills. Reached later by phone, Kasemeyer said he was leaning toward voting against the Greenleaf bond bill because it could set "a bad precedent." Robey could not be reached for comment.
Second try for casino bill
The casino nights bill received approval from all the delegation members present except Turner, a Columbia Democrat who abstained because he chairs the House subcommittee that deals with gaming issues.
The bill, sponsored by Miller and Malone, is aimed at providing veterans organizations and volunteer fire departments another means of raising money. It is identical to the bill the two filed last year, which cleared the delegation but failed to get out of Turner's committee.
"I'm hoping we get a better chance in the committee" this year," Miller said. "The fact that you can do it in some counties (like Baltimore County) and not other counties is really a fairness issue."
The growler bill also got unanimous support in the straw vote.
E. Randolph Marriner, who requested the bill and is the owner of Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia, said legislation passed two years ago allowing certain restaurants to sell takeout beer and wine should have included growlers.
"If you have not been to our pub, we have an amazing array of draft beers that change," Marriner said. "And we have had a huge amount of requests to take those beers home."
Marriner said Victoria Gastro Pub had been selling beer in growlers — with the pub's name on the label — until December, when an inspector from the comptrollers office told him the law doesn't allow such sales because growlers are not full of alcohol and presealed before the sale.
"I have cases of (growlers) waiting for this wrong to be righted," Mariner said.