County Council puts off votes on mulch, landlord regulations

Keith Ohlinger's walks along a mulched road on his farm in Woodbine on Saturday, April 28.
Keith Ohlinger's walks along a mulched road on his farm in Woodbine on Saturday, April 28. (Brian Krista l Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Two controversial bills being reviewed by the Howard County Council — one setting rules for mulching operations and the other changing renters' rights — were tabled last night.

Last week, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced that he wanted to see a bill that would allow large-scale mulching and composting on farms and other properties primarily in the western county withdrawn by its sponsors, council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and councilman Greg Fox.


Kittleman proposed six amendments that would further restrict farmers' mulching and composting practices. The county executive also said that if the bill was not amended, he would issue a rare veto.

Council members debated the bill's merits for hours at an April 23 session, with questions continuing about the potential health risks of mulching and composting versus farmers' needs.

Residents had a chance to grill County Executive Allan Kittleman about a host of issues on Thursday night at the Howard County Citizens Associations’ annual town hall.

The council did not discuss the bill during its legislative session last night before voting to table it. The bill expires on June 6 with the chance to extend once to July 6 or twice to Aug. 5. The council's next chance to act on the bill is June 4.

The council also voted to table a bill regulating landlord and tenant relations. The bill, which had been criticized by some real estate and affordable housing groups as placing too much burden on landlords and not enough responsibility by tenants, could also next be voted on at the June 4 legislative session.

Sigaty, who sponsored the bill, introduced several amendments that were crafted in cooperation with the Howard County Association of Realtors and the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, including one to increase the minimum early termination notice tenants may give from 30 to 60 days for specified circumstances.

Fox was the council's biggest critic of the bill on Monday, taking aim at the early termination clause as unfair to landlords who own a few properties. He wanted to see the clause allowing early termination if a tenant's employment is involuntarily moved stricken from the bill, citing that employers will often cover moving and lease termination costs.

Fox also expressed concern about the line allowing for early termination due to loss of employment, asking how long the unemployment needed to last for qualification, or how to certify unemployment. Councilman Jon Weinstein offered the suggestion that landlords may require proof that a tenant received unemployment benefits.

The council voted to table the bill to allow time to work through Weinstein's suggestions and other possible amendments. The proposed legislation expires on June 6, or can be extended once through July 6 or twice through Aug. 5.