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Absent Severna Park Republican delegates doom stormwater bill

The absence of two Severna Park delegates at Friday's Anne Arundel County House delegation meeting meant an early end for legislation to exempt the county from the state stormwater mandate.

House Bill 55, introduced by Del. Steve Schuh, R-Gibson Island, would have removed Anne Arundel from a list of 10 jurisdictions required to assess stormwater fees under a law enacted in 2012.

The mandate prompted the County Council to set yearly fees of $85 for most single-family homes, $170 for other homes and $34 for condominiums and town houses.

If a bill to get Anne Arundel residents and businesses off the hook for stormwater fees had a chance anywhere in the General Assembly, it was thought to be in the county's Republican-controlled House delegation.

But when the delegation took its vote Friday, two of those Republicans weren't around.

With Dels. Cathy Vitale and Tony McConkey missing, six Republicans voted yes and the six Democrats voted no, killing the bill.

Vitale and McConkey arrived moments after the vote. Vitale, who is backing another bill to repeal the stormwater fee mandate, said she was at a doctor's appointment. McConkey could not be reached for comment.

Afterward, Schuh called his fellow Republicans' absence "very disappointing. Delegates and senators have a lot of obligations this time of year that pull us in several directions ... but in this case, it made a big difference."

Rolling back the mandate, which applies to the state's most populous jurisdictions, is a major Republican initiative in this session. Some bills would repeal the mandate entirely, while others would exempt different counties from it.

But most Democrats don't think it should be left entirely up to county governments to decide how to comply with the federal anti-pollution rules known as the Total Maximum Daily Load. They say the mandate was needed because some counties wouldn't act.

On Thursday, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee reported a 7-4 vote against Senate Bill 5, a proposal to repeal the mandate sponsored by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.

Days before, the same committee had shot down the Senate version of Schuh's proposal, submitted by Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, as Senate Bill 316.

Schuh, the county House delegation's chairman, said he did not do any vote-counting on his bill before Friday's tally.

Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, said Schuh should have done so. Astle, who said he supports the stormwater mandate and opposes Schuh's bill, said the Senate delegation was waiting for the House members to act on the legislation before taking a position.

Scheduling the bill properly was Schuh's responsibility, Astle said.

"When I was the chairman of the House delegation, I never scheduled a vote until I knew where the votes were," Astle said. "I never wanted to be surprised from the chair. If he scheduled a vote with two of his votes missing, then hey, that's the way life works."

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, the vice chairman of the House delegation, didn't agree. McMillan said that if Schuh had postponed the vote and waited for Vitale and McConkey to show up so it could pass, he would have been accused of abusing his power as chairman.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, said he didn't want to comment on Vitale and McConkey's absence.

Instead, he said, he is looking forward to a House committee hearing on Wednesday on Vitale's bill to repeal the state stormwater fee mandate.

"We're all really focused on the statewide bill," Kipke said. "In terms of this specific bill, we have known all along that there wasn't enough support in the House and the Senate delegation to pass it."

Asked to weigh in on what happened Friday and the proposal by Schuh, her competition in the race for the Republican nomination for county executive, Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman referred comments to her legislative liaison, Don Murphy.

Murphy said the administration supports "all efforts to reduce or eliminate this aggressive and arbitrary tax." He said while the administration is disappointed efforts to amend stormwater fees stalled, it did not expect the House delegation bill to ultimately pass.

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