Tree bill and others take root in law, as governor plants elm


ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer celebrated the signing of Maryland's first statewide tree protection bill yesterday by planting a spindly 5-foot-tall Liberty elm tree on the State House's north lawn.

The disease-resistant hybrid elm could grow to 80 feet within a person's lifetime, Mr. Schaefer said.

The tree was among an estimated 1.4 million trees distributed by state and local nurseries during "Earth Month 1991." It was planted with the help of a group of Girl Scouts and Brownies, who were given instructions on the best way to plant trees from Walter S. Orlinsky, the former Baltimore City Council president who now heads the state's tree-planting program.

"We're destroying trees at a rapid pace, but we're becoming more aware of the importance of trees, the importance of the environment," Mr. Schaefer told a crowd of about 75 who watched the planting ceremony.

The tree protection bill -- one of more than 200 bills signed into law by the governor yesterday -- requires conservation of trees, the replanting of trees in exchange for some of those cut during development and planting of trees on development lots where no trees currently exist.

Other measures passed by the 1991 General Assembly and signed by Mr. Schaefer yesterday included bills to require the state to take over the Baltimore City Jail, to allow the state to assess parolees and probationers a $25 monthly "supervisory fee" and to increase a variety of occupational license fees for plumbers, contractors and others certified by the Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Mr. Schaefer's signature on the reforestation bill culminated a three-year struggle between developers and environmentalists over efforts to curb depletion of the state's remaining forests. But replanting requirements in the new law will not take effect until Jan. 1, 1993, a delay intended to give the state and local jurisdictions time to develop specific forest conservation programs.

Once the law goes into effect, applicants for subdivision, grading or sediment control permits for parcels of 40,000 square feet (just under an acre) or larger will have to obtain approval of a forest conservation plan. Then, if more than a certain percentage of trees are cut (with the percentage changing depending on the parcel's zoning), the developers will have to replant trees at a ratio of one-quarter acre to every acre cut, or pay a fee of $4,356 per acre into a reforestation fund if replanting is impossible.

Violators who fail to replant or pay into the reforestation funds could be assessed penalties as high as $13,068 for every acre of trees cut.

The bill authorizing state takeover of the City Jail and its $43 million operating costs is expected to provide long-term financial savings for the city but relatively small savings immediately. That is because the city had to agree to give up $40 million in state police aid grants in order to get the measure passed during an otherwise difficult budget year.

The jail property will be transferred to state ownership, and the jail's city employees will become state employees, effective July 1. The jail's name will change to the Baltimore City Detention Center.

While the additional net cost to the state in the coming budget year is estimated at only $3 million, after the elimination of state police aid, that figure is expected to increase to $12.2 million the following year and to go up even further as the jail's size is expanded and the state attempts to bring it into compliance with state fire and health codes.

The bill increasing occupational license fees will increase the cost of original and renewal licenses for foresters; providers of hearing aid services; plumbers; home improvement contractors, salesmen and subcontractors; and secondhand metals and gem dealers. Fee increases vary for each occupation, but examples include: master plumbers, up from $75 to $100; foresters, from $30 to $55 for a license and from $75 to $100 for a renewal; and home improvement contractors, from $175 to $225.

Among the wide range of other bills signed by Mr. Schaefer yesterday were measures to:

* Allow the State Anatomy Board to sell cadavers out of state for education or research purposes.

* Permit local departments of social services to require volunteers who work with children to obtain criminal background investigations under certain circumstances.

* Authorize the city of Taneytown to set by law the rate of interest per month imposed on overdue property taxes.

* Repeal a prohibition on musical performers who collect or solicit for money in public places.

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