In a sparsely attended public hearing Thursday night, Howard County's legislative delegation took comments on proposed local bills for introduction in the 2014 session in Annapolis.
The 10 bills up for discussion all relate specifically to county interests. Six would generate state funding for local projects, two would authorize special permitted events, one would raise Board of Education member salaries and one would restrict the number of liquor licenses in the county.
Not one seemed to generate controversy. Of the dozen or so people who testified, the overwhelming majority came to support a particular bill or bills.
Even the delegation seemed to be working together without a hitch.
"We may not agree on all the issues, but we certainly get along," quipped District 9 state Senator Allan Kittleman.
The only testimony that came close to disagreement was from District 4 County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, who asked the delegation to think about the logistics and possible consequences of bill 1-14, which would limit the number of class A liquor licenses that the Liquor Board could award based on a license-to-population ratio of one license per 4,000 county residents.
The bill, introduced by Delegates Guy Guzzone, of District 13, and Warren Miller, of District 9A, was intended to address concerns voiced by Ellicott City and Elkridge residents who said too many liquor stores were clustered in their communities.
But Sigaty said she worried the bill might have the unintended consequence of creating a high demand for licenses.
"I understand the impetus – people don't want a proliferation of lots of liquor stores in neighborhoods," she said. "My concern, when you actually think about limiting it on a population basis, is once you've created a limit on that population you've created a commodity… a liquor license now has value that people can sell."
Currently, there are 61 class A liquor license holders in the county. Based on a county population of 299,430, the number of licenses under the bill would be capped at just short of 75.
That's assuming lawmakers use annual population estimates updated by the U.S. Census Bureau; the bill says population will be "determined by the latest federal census," which could also mean the comprehensive census taken every decade – another point Sigaty said should be clarified.
While many of the bills were drafted by the delegation, four were at the request of the county's administration.
County officials came in support of bills requesting funding to upgrade Elkridge's Day Resource Center, which offers basic amenities to the county's homeless citizens; to expand the Head Start program by 200 seats; to renovate the historic Belmont property and to add shaded structures to playgrounds at six of the county's parks.
A week before Thanksgiving Day, there was also a request, submitted by Guzzone, to fund a food bank facility for the Community Action Council, the largest hunger relief entity in Howard County.
CAC President Bita Dayhoff said the organization, which currently leases space for a distribution center on Route 108 in Columbia, distributed 470,000 pounds of food to 22,000 people in fiscal year 2013.