Few local bills pass in 2012 General Assembly

Laurel's state lawmakers saw the 2012 General Assembly session come to a close with most of their initiatives having fallen short of passage.

While Laurel's delegates and senators saw the majority of their local bills — including a casino bill, a disposable-bag-fee bill and a bill that was aimed at boosting the economic landscape of the city's downtown business district — fail, they succeeded in passing some legislation pertaining to various statewide issues. However, that doesn't make the defeat of the local issues any less disappointing.

"It's very, very frustrating," Laurel's District 21 Del. Barbara Frush said after the bag-fee bill she sponsored in the House was voted down, 12-11, in the House Economic Matters Committee March 24.

The bill had support from the Prince George's County delegation and was backed by County Executive Rushern Baker III and Laurel's County Council member Mary Lehman, and was enabling legislation that would allow the county to impose a fee for disposable bags.

Laurel's District 23 Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters sponsored a bill to authorize Maryland to have a sixth gambling site in Prince George's County, complete with table games and 4,750 slot machines. The bill would also have authorized the state's five previously approved slots locations to offer table games.

Peters' bill faced major opposition in the House from delegates who believed the state should not approve additional slot machines until the other five slot facilities are up and running; two are currently in operation, with a third at Arundel Mills set to open this summer.

The House floated a plan that would have authorized a table-games only casino at the National Harbor development in Prince George's County, but the Senate balked at the idea of having a facility without at least some slots.

Various compromises were discussed April 9, the last day of the session, but a final plan could not be agreed upon by the two chambers before they adjourned.

Rosapepe: 'Very disappointed'

District 21 Sen. Jim Rosapepe had submitted a bill aimed at ensuring that churches choosing to locate in Laurel's commercial districts do not hamper economic development in those areas. His bill would have given the Laurel City Council the power to waive the restriction in state law that prohibits businesses in Prince George's County that are located within 500 feet of a church from obtaining a liquor license.

The bill had unanimously passed the Senate on March 14, but the House Economic Matters Committee, in a 17-1 vote, killed it on April 7, the second to last day of session.

"I am very disappointed," Rosapepe said, noting the bill was "important to economic revitalization of Main Street."

He explained the bill likely did not pass the committee because it did not have support from the Prince George's County delegation, which wanted to hold off on legislation until it could look at the issue from a countywide perspective.

Another bill Rosapepe submitted to help Laurel never even moved in the House. The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate, would have changed the boundaries of the Maryland-Washington Metropolitan District, which is what Prince George's County uses to assess its park and planning tax, to exclude properties annexed by the city of Laurel since 1997; properties annexed before 1997 are already excluded from the district.

The goal of the bill, Rosapepe said, is to prevent hundreds of Laurel residents from having to pay both a city park tax and a Prince George's County park and planning tax. He said he will continue to submit the legislation until it passes.

A few victories

Among the few victories Laurel legislators can claim is a bill sponsored by District 23 Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith that requires the Prince George's County Board of Education to develop and maintain a searchable database of budget information, broken down by individual schools.

"Passage of this legislation will promote greater involvement of the stakeholders in the county school system including parents, students and employees," Valentino-Smith said in a statement. "Currently, the public may request the budget information, but it comes in aggregate form, filled with complex data which is hard to decipher. This legislation calls for not only transparency but clarity in the information provided."

The bill unanimously passed through the House and the Senate.

The Prince George's County delegation also got a few bills passed, including one that will require the Prince George's County Board of Education to develop and implement a recycling program in all public schools.

Laurel is also slated to get some state bond funding again this year. Rosapepe and his District 21 colleagues requested $200,000 for the Laurel Boys and Girls Club; the club was approved for $150,000.

Peters and his District 23 colleagues requested $25,000 in bond funding for improvements at the Dinosaur Park in South Laurel. They received the full amount.

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