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County delegation takes closer look at possible legislative proposals

NEW WINDSOR — The county delegation provided some insight this week into what county-requested legislation it might take up in January when the General Assembly begins its 2017 session.

At a meeting between delegation members and the Board of County Commissioners, the board provided the delegation with information on a list of proposals county officials hope to see the delegation sponsor when the session begins.

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Del. Susan Krebs and Sen. Justin Ready indicated that delegation members would be interested in considering taking up statewide legislation pushed by the board that would call for the elimination of language in the Maryland Building and Rehabilitation Code that mandates businesses that move into a new building to make updates to the space related to Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. County staff told the board earlier this month that the requirement is often burdensome on small and new businesses trying to launch in the area.

"We believe that there needs to be some logical threshold at which point the ADA requirements are triggered," county Planning Director Phil Hager said on Thursday.

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The Board of Commissioners urged the delegation to take up legislation to allow counties to expand the eligibility window for disabled law enforcement or rescue personnel to claim a property tax credit on new property. Legislation on the matter was proposed last year, Del. April Rose said, but never made it to a hearing.

Delegation members asked the board to speak with state agencies on some of the reforms they requested legislation on, including a proposal that calls for flexibility in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation board's ability to review nonagricultural exceptions on eased properties and another that would shorten the deadline for Maryland Department of the Environment staff to review county water and sewer master plans for approval.

They also urged the commissioners to seek support in other counties for some statewide proposals. The ability to get backing from other jurisdictions, members said, can go a long way in getting a proposal passed.

In response to a request for a bill demanding the restoration of highway user revenues to local governments, Ready told the board that, while the delegation supports the idea, members will weigh how best to approach the subject.

Other proposals that might face a tough fight ahead are requests the county made of the delegation related to teacher pension funding and hold harmless money.

The board asked that delegation members consider sponsoring legislation that calls for the state to take half of the responsibility the counties now carry to fund teacher pensions and for a requirement that the state provide hold harmless money to school districts facing declining enrollment.

While the conversations around the issues are worth having, delegation members said, both would come with a large price tag for the state.

Ready said he expects to work with legislators from Baltimore City, which has also faced dwindling enrollment numbers, on hold harmless legislation, but said that he didn't think the teacher pension proposal would stand much of a chance of passing.

"What I'm saying is we've got to pick what battle we think we're going to win," Krebs said.

A proposal for a bill that would establish a resource conservation incentive through the state might also be a tough sell with a sizable price tag, the legislators said.

Delegation members said they would discuss local bills — such as one that would eliminate a county requirement that those peddling produce in the county be licensed, and another that would allow the county to remove a reference to the county's former public transportation provider in the county's definition of its local public transportation authority — before they decide whether to put them forward as delegation bills.

On filling commissioner vacancies, the delegation will also decide whether to take up legislation that calls for a change in how the vacancies are filled, placing the power to approve replacements in the hands of the commissioners rather than the governor.

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The board has suggested that the central committee of the commissioner vacating the seat provide the board with three names from which the board will make the final selection.

Delegation members on Thursday expressed some concern about board members not elected in the seat with the vacancy having the power to make the final decision.

Officials plan to talk with community members before deciding what legislation to sponsor at a future date.

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