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Carroll legislators hopeful as General Assembly session begins

Del. Susan Krebs and Del. April Rose, both Republicans who represent District 5, say they are optimistic about the new session.

ANNAPOLIS — Carroll County legislators said they were optimistic as the state legislative session officially began.

The 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly convened at noon Wednesday, with speeches to the Senate and House of Delegates from Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.

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"I am looking forward to the next 90 days," Hogan told the members of the House. "Let's have a great session and get things done for the people of Maryland in a bipartisan way."

Hogan, a Republican, said he plans to pay close attention to ideas from both Republican and Democrats, something he signaled a day earlier in an announcement about his plan for taxes in the coming year. In a news conference Tuesday, Hogan outlined a proposal to cut taxes for low-income families, senior citizens and new manufacturing businesses located in designated high-unemployment areas.

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Carroll County legislators on Wednesday said they were happy to hear about the plan.

"What the governor is proposing is common sense," said Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5.

Although Shoemaker said he heard a lot of "partisan rhetoric" in the months prior to the start of the session, the things he heard on the opening day — including from Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch, who said he looked forward to both parties working together — left him feeling hopeful about the session.

"He's delivering a very optimistic message," Shoemaker said of the governor's speeches to both the House and, on Tuesday, to the Republican caucus. But "he's going to need our help to get [things] done."

"The governor has a very specific way about him," said Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, adding that he has garnered a lot of support from both Republicans and Democrats.

While the second year of a governor's term can sometimes prove to be the most partisan, Krebs said, she is optimistic this session can defy that trend.

"It's going to be interesting, but I can feel a sea change already," she said.

"I think we'll see, hopefully, both sides of the aisle can see the benefit of bringing down the cost of living," said Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5. "Hopefully that will enable us to get some tax relief."

This week, the legislators will have the chance to focus primarily on local bills before getting into the schedule of meetings, hearings and readings, Ready said.

On Thursday, legislators will receive information on their committee schedules and on Friday morning, the members of the county delegation will join together to review county-specific legislation. The legislators will vote on whether to sponsor, as a delegation, bills requesting the transfer of child support enforcement administration out of the county State's Attorney's Office, the allowance of turkey hunting on Sundays in Carroll County, an adjustment to a state ethics law's application to small town councils, a number of bond bills, and changes to liquor laws in the county that would permit broader hours for some liquor license holders and expanded abilities to provide tastings for others. Much of that legislation was requested by county organizations and officials.

The delegation will also consider two bills being championed by two of its members.

In December, Shoemaker laid out a plan for a bill that would set term limits for members of the Carroll County Board of Education, something he said at the time would encourage board members to make necessary decisions about things like redistricting in a timely matter.

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Krebs is reviving a bill on behalf of the county Board of Commissioner she said came up last year that would transfer the responsibility for filling county vacancies from the county's Democrat and Republican central committees to the voters, requiring a special election to be held to allow for the election of a person to fill the spot.

"I think people overwhelmingly will want to pick their commissioner," she said.

Bills the delegation decides to sponsor are generally moved through the legislature with relative ease. When that is finished, the legislators will begin their regular committee work.

This session, the General Assembly is expected to revive several bills that were vetoed by the governor last year, something that Del. April Rose, R-District 5, said she believes will get the session moving even faster than normal.

"From what I'm told, we're going to have a lot of hearings earlier than normal," she said.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, said he hopes the sense of friendliness lasts into those hearings.

"It's always optimism and good feelings on the first day," he said. "My hope is that we can work together on policy and try putting politics aside.

"You don't want some kind of Mexican standoff between the Senate president and the governor, and have that get in the way of getting things done," he said.

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