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Legislators prepare for upcoming session

Statewide referendum reform, the rain tax and changing redistricting rules are some of the big priorities of Howard County legislators as they prepare for the 2015 General Assembly Session.

There is uncertainty among elected state officials as they welcome a new class of legislators along with Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan. Legislators are uncertain how Hogan's budget will impact a local county's share of state money. The state is staring down a $1.2 billion structural deficit, which Hogan officials have teased could be made up with cuts, reorganizing funds and rearranging funding formulas.

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While this has given some legislators pause, especially when considering spending money, there are still some issues to tackle.

The Howard County Delegation plans to support passage of statewide referendum reform, which was introduced last legislative session. That legislation would have tweaked the process to give citizens an assurance that their petitions were correctly worded. It was introduced after a zoning petition drive was denied by the Howard County Board of Elections because its language did not have a "fair and accurate summary" even though it had 6,000 signatures.

Guz Guzzone, a former Democratic delegate who returns as the senator from District 13 this session, said referendum reform "has statewide implications," and isn't just a Howard County issue.

Another issue Howard County legislators and officials hope to tackle is the Stormwater Remediation Fee. New County Executive Allan Kittleman has supported eliminating the fee, dubbed a "rain tax" by its critics, and giving county governments latitude in meeting the fiscal demands of runoff control.

But changes to the rain tax will likely wait until Gov.-elect Larry Hogan moves the issue forward, as its repeal was a core tenant of his campaign.

Another state issue a Howard legislator hopes to tackle is changing redistricting rules. Del. Bob Flanagan, a Republican who represents District 9B, said he hasn't yet drafted legislation for non-partisan redistricting as he wants to see what others may file; but if he has to file it himself, he will.

Four of Maryland's eight congressional districts are among the most gerrymandered in the country, according to Common Cause Maryland.

"I would be interested to see what is filed for redistricting," Flanagan said. "[Voters] have lost their voice and their vote doesn't count when they go vote."

Other state issues will likely make their way into Howard County. Kittleman mentioned the county needing aid with rising heroin use and Hogan plans to declare a state of emergency on his first day off office. This would help the county and state tap into federal money that could be used to fight back against heroin overdoses.

The 2015 Session begins on Jan. 14 with Hogan taking office on Jan. 21. His budget is due to the General Assembly on Jan. 23, which will help unfurl how he plans to tackle the state's deficit and other issues.

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